Running The Gauntlet

“You ready, Brice?” Reagan asked, resting one hand on his shoulder. She was still out of breath from her run. She’d triggered a sensor just short of the second building, and retreated when lights came on. “Get over half way to the first building, and you’ve done better than Carew.”

They’d caught Carew as he crossed the open land, a buggy tearing in from the right, almost like it had been waiting for him. The guards took him away at gunpoint.

He wasn’t the first to be caught, and he wouldn’t be the last. A couple of hours in a cell, just long enough to scare him, and Carew would be dumped at the main gate.

“I’m ready.” Brice crouched down and squeezed through the gap in the fence. Then he stood, inside the compound, and breathed.

He’d trained for this. He could do it.

The first building looked like a solid block of stone in the moonlight, the only windows on the far side. No chance of someone spying him, as long as he didn’t trigger anything.

Brice waited for the searchlights to cross over, and then he ran.

Carew had gone right. Brice followed Reagan’s route, to the left.

The ground was fairly even, but he knew to watch out for the holes the rodents made. Some people said Kaiahive bred them and let them loose on purpose. But people said a lot of things about the company‌—‌like the stories that they were engineering some kind of fighting machine.

The compound looked quiet, but that was because the real Kaiahive was underground, over twenty floors deep. That wasn’t official, but everybody knew it.

Brice curved a wider arc than Reagan, but he reached the building in a shorter time. The concrete was warm, like it was being heated from the inside. This was supposedly some kind of storage, so maybe there were things that had to be kept hot. Maybe their fighting machines breathed fire.

He edged along to the corner. The second building was off to one side. There was a straight path joining them‌—‌the path Reagan had taken. Brice ran wide to the left, hitting the building from one end.

The lights stayed off, and his hand pressed against the concrete. There was clanking from within, and Brice wanted to listen. But he had to move on. Two buildings down, two more to go, and then back to the fence.

Apparently one person had managed the whole gauntlet, a few years back. But most returned after reaching the first building. If they were lucky.

Brice was better than most. If anyone was going to complete the challenge, it would be him.

He could see the third building, across a small garden of neat gravel paths and flower beds. It was too pristine to be unprotected, but there were trees running along one side of the garden, and they practically touched the next building.

Brice monkeyed up the first trunk, then scrambled through the branches, tree to tree, the ground a vertigo-inducing drop beneath him. But he was having fun. Adrenaline pumped, exciting him even more.

He reached the last tree, then softly dropped onto the roof of the building and climbed down metal rungs. He assumed that was some kind of emergency exit.

As he hit the ground, voices drifted across the still night air. Brice ducked down and froze. The voices grew‌—‌two of them, talking low. Figures appeared, weapons by their sides.

Brice felt his legs start to shake. He breathed as slowly as he could, trying to bring his beating heart under control.

The figures walked to a door in the final building. Bright light spilt out as they opened it, and another voice yelled a greeting from inside. They entered, closing it behind them.

Brice didn’t move. He watched the windows, waiting for one to go dark and another, further from the door, to become lit. Only then did he run, crouched down, trying his best to ignore the burn in his thighs.

It was probably seconds, but it felt like minutes before he touched the concrete of the final building. He rested his head against the rough surface, taking one long, soothing breath.

Now all he had to do was get back.

The straight route was long, especially with the searchlights. Maybe Brice could make it, but this close to the end, he needed to play safe. So he moved at an angle. When he reached this fence, he’d follow it round to where Reagan waited.

Brice ran. The moist grass glistened in the moonlight. And there, up ahead, something else caught the light. A line, barely ankle height, reaching across the grass.

A trigger for an alarm.

Brice measured his paces then bounded over the line. He smiled‌—‌as if they’d catch him out that easily!

There was a cough, to his left. Brice turned his head.

And stumbled to a stop as the two guards brought their weapons up.

“ID?” one said.

Brice raised his hands, didn’t respond.

“Too young,” said the second. “Just a kid.”

“How old?” One of them flicked a torch on, playing it in Brice’s face.

“Se…seventeen.” He moved a hand across his eyes.

“You running the gauntlet?”

Brice didn’t know how to answer that.

“All four buildings, yeah? That’s pretty impressive. So you think you’re in good shape?”

Brice nodded. It seemed like the right thing to do.

“Think you could take us on?”

Brice swallowed, shook his head.

The torch dipped to the ground. “Smart, too. Good to see someone who knows their limits.”

Brice found his tongue. “You going to arrest me?”

One of the guards snorted. There was a click, maybe like a gun being readied.

“Never seen someone get past the wire before. You did a good job, kid. So,” and the guard stepped forward, holding something out to Brice.

His hand.

“You want to join Kaiahive?”

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