My future goals include: making people throw books - preferably my books - across the room and writing diverse, inclusive characters.
When I'm not writing or reading, I spend my time dancing, practicing karate, and thinking about how I should probably be writing instead of watching YouTube.
My feet fly over the dry grass making an absurd amount of noise. But stealth isn’t important anymore. Three pairs of equally loud footsteps follow close behind me. Endless rows of trees pass by in a blur. The branches overhead block out the night sky. The only sound louder than our footsteps are the purr of the motorcycle engines chasing us.
After a scan of the forest shows no sign of the twins or the five people with them, I stop running, brace my hands on my knees, and try to give my lungs the air they’re demanding. Ray, G, and Fox stop beside me, all of them breathing as heavily as I am, Ray still looking pleased with herself.
G gives her a pointed look.
Ray just smirks. “Worth it.”
G sighs, his head sagging. I can’t tell if it’s from annoyance or sprinting.
“I mean, we’re now running from armed soldiers, but you have to admit, G, it was pretty great.” Fox gives him a crooked grin. “Who else do you know that can say they punched a Japincatch officer in the face?”
G gives Fox a similar look and checks over his shoulder. “Did we lose them?”
The purring engines keep getting louder. I shake my head.
“Then what do we do?” G asks.
I push stray braids out of my face. “We can’t outrun them.”
“I mean,” Fox shrugs, “we could.”
The headlights of motorcycles become brighter through the trunks.
I straighten. “That doesn’t help the twins or the people we’re supposed to be helping escape.”
“We do have over-powered grappling hooks.” Ray looks to me, still smirking. “Come on, Flag. Let’s show these fuckers how stupid they look stuck on the ground.”
“Ray, are you crazy? Did you not notice they’re all armed?” G’s voice jumps up an extra pitch as he adds, “With guns?”
“We have to buy the twins time to get those people away from here somehow,” she says. “Me and Flag are the best with the grapples.”
G runs a hand through his hair. “Can’t we find a way around them?”
“Around them? They’re chasing us,” Ray snaps at G. She turns to me. “Are you Flag, the seventeen-year-old renegade taking on the government, or not?”
I breathe in and out once and run a hand along the gun strap across my chest.
You said you’d be the leader of this. You knew what you were signing up for.
I force what I hope is a confident smile. “Let’s go give them something to chase.”
Fox readjusts the half-spheres on his hands. “Count me in.”
G sighs and silently does the same.
“All right,” I breathe, adjusting my own devices. “Let’s go.”
Ray laughs and shoots a wire right in front of the group of soldiers as they come into a clearing. They all freeze. Still laughing, Ray propels herself across the break in the trees, hitting two soldiers in the process. We follow and join her as she begins to jump back and forth across the long clearing, pushing off the trees with our legs. Fox and G speed ahead of Ray and I.
Out of the corner of my eyes, I look at Ray. She grins, obviously enjoying herself. I can’t say the same.
Almost in slow motion, I hear someone shoot. I’m halfway to whirling around when Ray careens away, limp.
I reach the other end of the clearing. Fox runs back toward the open dirt. Without thinking, I land on him, pinning him down under me.
I tune him out. Barely breathing, I crane my whole torso around to look back at where Ray fell. What is she doing? Why isn’t she getting up? Why is she just lying there?
One of the soldiers picks her up. Her head lolls toward us. Her eyes are empty, already glassing over. And in her chest where her heart should be is a bleeding hole.
I let Fox shove me off.
He sits up and stares.
G comes over and stares too.
Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go. Somehow, I stand. I grab both boys’ arms and pull them into a run in the other direction.
When we can’t run anymore, the three of us stop. I just stand there. G slides down a tree. Fox leans on a different tree, tears running down his face.
The three of us don’t move for a long time. Three. Three of us. Three of us because Ray’s not here. Because Ray’s dead.
Over the earpiece, Kat says, “I think we lost them.”
“Flag?” Kit asks when I don’t respond. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Everything’s fine. They’ve left. We’re just going to stay out here for a bit and make sure they don’t come back.”
“Okay. See you in a bit.”
“Yeah . . . ” I take the device out and limply let it drop to the dry grass.
Engines start again, but they get quieter.
When it’s silent again, I cover my mouth, like that’ll keep the high-pitched gasping and crying from escaping into the real world. I fold in on myself until I’m a ball on the forest floor.
A few hours later, we meet up with the twins and the five people from the city again. The twins frown at the three of us. Kat tilts her head in a questioning way. A silent, “Where’s Ray?”
I shake my head.
I woke up today.