Chapter 1


I slip my headphones over my ears and look down at my music player. Other Runners believe you need the use of all your senses to run. I get it. You need to have every ability at your disposal to keep yourself ahead of the Street Patrols, but seriously, who cares. I need the music. It keeps me alert. Alive. I open my running playlist and take a look.

The Street Patrols, or SPs as I like to call them, would love to catch me holdings onto this. They’ve been looking for any excuse to lock me up for ages. Too bad for them they can’t even search me, you know, if they somehow manage to actually catch me. That’s one of the nice things about being under the Age of Accountability, those dumb SPs don’t stand a chance.

I can’t decide and hit the random button. Low Rider by War starts up. I close my eyes, hold my breath, and let the beat roll over me. My heartbeat slows. I lift my head, open my eyes, and smile. There’s nothing better than the start to a new run.

I pull my hood over my ears and look over the terrain in front of me. Nothing but alleys out as far as the eye can see. Dumpsters and back doors to the many retail establishments in the area litter the course, but outside of that it’s empty. There’s no one to be seen, nothing out of the ordinary, just a standard simple run through downtown.

I exhale slowly and leap to my feet.

I don’t know how The Geek thinks we can consider this a run. A few months ago I wouldn’t have been caught dead doing something as simple as this. For some stupid reason, those idiotic contractors at The Agora get themselves all up in a tizzy when someone gets anywhere near AoA, so even though I’ve still got 3 weeks until I turn eighteen, you know, the Age of Accountability, no one seems to have the balls the take me on, even though my record is nothing short of spectacular.

The Geek’s always telling me I should be more understanding; of how the risk is too high for anyone over the AoA to get caught. He always says something stupid like, “Why would anyone want to hire you, no matter what your record is, and risk having you get caught and bring down the SPs on them?”

I always tell him, “Why not?” He doesn’t like that answer and will begin muttering something about being tossed in prison for life. That kid is always thinking about the worst possible outcome, as if that could ever happen to me.

I guess that’s just the way things go when you work for an organization like The Agora. Something about their whole mission statement of “Providing a safe marketplace for the purveyors of goods and services the government has declared undermine the integrity of our nation”, seems to get everyone all worked up about everything.

Sure, they sell guns and drugs and whatnot, but so does the government. The SPs never really seem to care about that stuff anyway. They care about the other stuff. The music, the books, and the other artsy crap everyone seems to want nowadays.

I love a good tune as much as the next guy, so who am I to say whether or not these things should be outlawed? If it’s being made, why not make some cash off of it, right?

Which brings me to how I fit into this whole situation. I guess you could consider me a delivery boy. I like to use the word smuggler; it has a certain ring to it, you know? The Agora calls us Runners. There’s a whole ton of us all across the nation, although very few are people I’d consider anything like me. What can you expect from an occupation where the entire workforce is under the age of eighteen? Most of these kids haven’t even gone through puberty yet.

All the same, it is pretty much the perfect job to have if you’re under AoA and looking to make some cash. And in today’s world, who isn’t looking to make some cash. Heck, with things as they are, many of these kids don’t have a choice. The money their parents make off their government-subsidized jobs doesn’t even cover the cost of food, not to mention everything else a person needs to stay alive.

Of course, there are still those folks who do it purely because of the dollar signs flashing in their eyes. There’s a lot of money to be made if you’re any good. Heck, there’s a lot of money to be made even if you aren’t, the risks just get a little higher.

Then there are the few people I consider the true Runners, the ones who have running in their blood. There’s not too many of us, but there’s more than a handful that run for one reason only. Because it’s a heckuva lot of fun.

Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum starts playing. Great tune. Lifts my spirits almost immediately. The start of a new song means I must be about three minutes into the run. I’m not running at top speed or anything, so I’d guess I’ve made it about a third of a mile down my course. With how empty everything is around here, I don’t see any reason to take things any faster. Might as well let this run drag out as long as possible. With the way my luck’s been going lately, this could be the last.

It’s times like this I can’t help but feel happy about how the government runs every aspect of our lives. Well, not my life, I’m pretty much a solo operator, but the rest of those sheep out there. When scheduling a run, you can easily determine when you should head out.

They’ve got these things called sanctioned travel times, which are the only times in which people are allowed to go from one place to the other, usually from their house to work, or vice versa. Sure, the SPs are still out on patrol looking for people walking around outside of these time periods, but they barely ever go into the alleyways or anywhere off the main roadways, unless they’ve got someone in particular they’re looking for.

The music stops and my adrenaline instantly kicks into high gear. Something’s up and I can only hope it means things might start to get exciting. I jump behind a nearby dumpster and press my finger to my left headphone.

“Whatcha got for me, Geek?” I ask.

“Don’t get your hopes up, Cyrus. No signs of any patrols on your course today. It’s going to be a pretty standard there-and-back kind of run.”

“Who says my hopes were up?”

“I know how your brain works, Cy.”

“Whatever. What do you want? I’m kinda in the middle of something here.”

“Oh really? I thought you were just running a pound of chocolate out to Mrs. Chesterfield.”

“That’s something, isn’t it?”

“It’s something alright. Anyways, I’ve got something I think is going to make you very very happy, so stop with the slow jog you’re doing and get back here quick.”

“Yeah? This isn’t another one of those things were you get me all excited and it turns out you just managed to find some old card collection or something on the Agora Forums, is it?”

“I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but let’s just say that I’ve found something that should keep you busy until you turn AoA.”

“A job?”

“I’ve already said too much.”

“God you’re annoying. Fine, this run’s pretty lame anyways. I’ll see you in thirty.”

I release my finger from my ear and the music returns. The kid’s somehow managed to get me another job. That has to be what this is all about. Why else would he stop me on a run to tell me about it?

I just hope it’s something better than these intra-city runs. These make me feel it would almost be better to just sit on my butt and wait for my job assignment from the Federal Job Bureau.

I pick up the pace just as the next song in my playlist starts up. Shoot to Thrill by AC/DC. It had better be another job.