This story is by Taralyn Cooper and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
“Sorry folks, it looks like we’ll be stuck here a while,” the train conductors voice comes through the speakers. “The tracks have been blocked ahead. They’re working hard to restore service.”
The woman diagonally across from me shifts to lean against the plastic divider, her arms crossing over her chest. She seems twice as big now in that position, her veins sticking out on her arms. “Fucking useless,” she mutters, her wrinkles becoming more prominent as she furrows her brow.
I glance above her head to see a group of people, all armed and dressed in black, coming down the stairs to the platform. I guess this is what I get for taking transit. I close my book, keeping my finger in between the pages I was reading.
She raises an eyebrow at me. I motion with my chin to the platform behind her. She twists in her seat, contorting her body in an uncomfortable way and showing me her bulging belly that I didn’t want to see.
“The fucking Feds?” She murmurs.
I laugh before I can help it. “Not even close,” I say.
“They here for you?”
“Taking the train wasn’t my brightest idea, but I forgot it went underground now.”
“How long you been gone?” She turns back around. “This station is one of the older ones now.”
“It’s been a while.” That’s a bit of an understatement; especially since I don’t remember the last time I was physically here.
“Clearly,” she mutters before leaning into the barrier again. I’m surprised it can hold her weight. “What’re you gonna do?”
“Not sure. I don’t think they know which car I’m on.”
“They’ll find out eventually. I doubt they’ll have the pass cleared before they find you.”
I nod. “There’s no other way out, is there?”
“Nope,” she pops the ‘p’.
“Great,” I whisper. I tap my book against my thigh as I look down the train. Her and I are the only ones on this car. It looks just like the ones from my memories; though who’s memories they are I forget now. The implanted memories all blend together after a while.
“What’re you running from?” She asks, eyebrows raised. “You’ve gotta be running from something.”
“First of all, it wasn’t my fault.”
She laughs, wheezing and clutching her stomach.
“It was a dare and really it was too easy.”
She gurgles. “I hear that all the time from my nephews. So go on, tell me what happened.”
I study her face, the wrinkles along her forehead and the dark freckles along her cheekbones. My face doesn’t reflect my age; the amount of tests at the Institute has kept me alive longer than my body portrays. I’m a little jealous actually. Her face is so expressive and beautiful in it’s imperfections. “I may or may not have stolen some sensitive information from a private company that raises hit men.”
She gapes at me, face draining of colour. “Good lord. You can’t be older than fifteen, how the hell did you do that?”
I sniff and wrinkle my nose. “I’m much older than I look,” I say. “And their security was crap. I’ve built better protection programs in my sleep.”
She turns to the platform where the armed group is spreading out along the platform and heading towards the cars. “That’s a group of hired men out there, isn’t it?”
“Probably. Not actually sure who’s been following me. I did pretty good wiping my trail to here but I got careless. It’s been three months since I’ve seen someone on my tail.”
“Holy shit,” she mutters and turns back to me. “I would give yourself up.”
I shake my head. “Can’t. I’ve got a good deal to settle here.”
“How do you propose to get out of here than?”
I shrug. “Haven’t quite figured that out.”
She twists again, watching the figures point their guns at the doors. “How dangerous are you, really?”
I grin at her back. “They clearly think I’m dangerous.”
She turns back and I make sure to wipe the smile from my face. “I didn’t ask them.”
I blink. This is the first time someone hasn’t taken that as an answer. I can feel the grin making it’s way across my lips again. “My name’s Angel. Or at least, that’s the name they gave me.”
Her eyes rake over my features. She sighs. “You’re a stray, aren’t you?” I nod. “Alright then,” she says and reaches beneath the seat to pull out a gun. Was this planned? Is she supposed to be my first contact? “I expect a cut of this deal.”
“Depends on how many you take out. I’m not supposed to leave witnesses.”
She rolls her eyes, as if insulted. The door to her right opens and one of them steps inside. A ways down, to my right, another steps in through another door. They both turn to us and she pulls the trigger, the one to her right going down with a thud.
The other says before he meets the same fate. Despite her size, she’s quick.
“You know how to shoot a gun?”
“Haven’t had the chance to use one in a real situation.”
“Mostly. But the one I was at had a shooting range we could practice on.”
She raises an eyebrow. “You know you’re not supposed to talk about the Institutions.”
I laugh. “What information did you think I took?”
She gives a jerk of her head and I guess that’s an acknowledgment of my comment before she stands up and walks to the one on her right. She grabs his gun and walks over to hand it to me. “Lets go.”
I nod and stand, taking the gun from her with my left and keeping my finger between the pages on my right.
The door from the conductors control room opens and the conductor steps out, eyes wide and mouth agape. He opens and closes his mouth a few times as if trying to say something.
“What is it, man?” The woman asks before she gestures to the people outside that have aimed for the first car after hearing the gunshots.
He clears his throat before he turns to the door opposite the one to the platform. He presses the button to open it and the doors fold inside. He gestures for us to follow him but why isn’t he saying anything?
I turn to the group on the platform, shouts echoing from the leader that’s standing back. His face is uncovered and something about those bushy eyebrows reminds me of the Institute I came from.
“Come on then, Angel,” the woman says and gestures me off the train.
I walk over to the door and jump down after the conductor.
“Angel!” I hear the voice of the guy, Chance I think they called him, from the cell beside mine and that’s where I remember those eyebrows from.
“Don’t look back,” the woman says and jumps down to land behind me.
“I didn’t think they’d ever let him out,” I say as the conductor waves us across towards the platform on the other side. He’s gesturing to a door beside a set of stairs, the red glowing exit sign above it.
“Don’t you run from me, Angel!” Chance yells and the woman pushes my shoulder to keep me moving.
The conductor is fiddling with a ring of keys, searching for the right one, before he sticks one into the knob and twists the door open. Darkness greets us as we duck in after the conductor. Black-clad figures jumping off the platform disappear behind the door as the conductor slams it shut. His breathing is heavy and it sounds like he’s shivering.
“Where are the lights?” The woman asks and I can hear her shuffling around, most likely looking for a switch.
A crack echoes before the fluorescent lights flicker on, humming above us. The conductor’s eyes are still wide and he gestures me to walk down the hallway. The woman starts walking and I fall into step behind her, the conductor taking up the rear. The place looks like it was built when the station was, back in 2012, and I’m surprised the lights still work.
It’s not long before we walk up a set of stairs and reach another door. What are the chances it’ll be safe?
The woman aims her gun to the crack of the door and grabs the handle, slowly turning it and pushing it open. Sunlight glares in our face as we step out of the emergency exit, facing a decayed and destroyed strip mall. The conductor looks around, as if waiting for the group to surround us. The hum of the new cars echo and I strain to hear the sound of anybody running around and heading towards us. But there’s nothing.
The woman turns to me and rests her gun on her shoulder. “Where to?”
I raise an eyebrow. “You got a ride?”
She shakes her head. “It can’t be too far.”
I turn to the conductor who’s staring at us. “You going to be okay?” I ask and he nods slowly.
“I got a car not too far from here,” he says. “You need to go somewhere, yeah? Last time I saw those guys they didn’t leave the person alive.”
“Not sure if I’m classified as people,” I say slowly.
He waves that away. “You volunteered to help further the scientific discoveries; you’re people.” He makes it sound so simple. “I’ll get you where you need to go.”
I blink as the woman walks up and claps the man on his shoulder. “I, um, thank you,” I say. I don’t remember someone ever being this nice before.
The woman smiles and her face turns gentle, completely different from the woman I just saw kill two guys. “I’ve got to say, I’m curious to know who you’ve made the deal with.”
My lips quirk. “It’s a bit of a drive and I can’t guarantee you won’t be killed on site. I was told no witnesses.”
“We’re not witnesses anymore,” the conductor says and starts walking towards the decayed strip mall. “I’m sure whoever we’re meeting will see it that way.”
The woman and I follow him. “It’s difficult predicting people outside the institutes.”
“You’ll get the hang of it,” the woman says. “I’ve got a feeling you won’t be going anywhere.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’ll protect you,” the conductor says. “You’ve helped save my wife and daughter. The least I can do is repay the favour.”
“It’s a big city now,” the woman says. “A little tweaking and nobody will recognize you.”
“Except us, of course. But you need someone in your court to help you out and have your back.”
I smile as we manoeuvre our way through the rubble and out the opposite side of the strip mall. I guess those stories about the people outside the institutes were just those; stories meant to keep us from escaping.