Sarah and Lance were some of the last out of the Night Post. Only John, his doorman, and a handful of cleaners stayed behind. Staying in a Night Post during the day was frowned upon. There wasn’t a rule against it, but people simply didn’t do it. Besides, safety or not, most folks felt trapped in the Night Posts, and were happy to get out during the day.
The streets around the Night Post felt packed. The vendors had set up already, and were yelling their wares to passing folk. Roof farmers climbed ladders to check on their crops. The gang kids were out on their pedal bikes, laughing and pushing through the crowds. Clinics helped the sick from large white tents while chop shops offered cheap cybers from dingy grey ones. Folks mingled and milled and went about their day. In the day it felt like the city came alive again.
It was an illusion though. A few blocks past the Night Post, the crowd would thin to only a few people After that, the streets would be empty. No one strayed far from the Night Post. More, the buildings around were also empty. There were enough dark spaces inside the ruins for Shadows to still be a threat. The streets felt crowded because that was where everyone was.
Lance traded a pair of good boots for two bowls of thin cabbage soup, and a small loaf of spent grain bread. Sarah frowned slightly as they sat on an abandoned stairway to eat.
“I could have gotten these,” Sarah said, taking one of the bowls from Lance.
“I know,” Lance said. “But there’s a fine line between being thankful, and being a mooch. You got our drinks last night, a room to sleep in, a bed…” Lance shrugged. “The least I could do was get breakfast.”
“Technically, the least you could have done is nothing,” Sarah corrected. She bumped shoulders with Lance. “Thank you for breakfast,” she said.
Lance nodded. He tried to mumble a response through a mouthful of bread, but gave up when Sarah playfully swatted him. It was a beautiful day out, with a clear sky and a warm breeze. Having Sarah by his side certainly didn’t hurt the day in any way, and yet, Lance felt something was amiss. He looked about carefully
It took him a second, but Lance noticed that the crowd seemed edgy. It wasn’t a big surprise; there were several groups of Blight-Men wandering the streets. The Blight-Men was Emperor Blight’s personal army, and they were tasked with keeping the peace amongst the folks during the day. They didn’t stay in the Night Posts often, and normally only a few of them were seen here and there. Lance had counted at least five pairs already.
“Lot of Blighters out,” Lance mentioned. “I wonder if this is because of last night?”
“It is,” Sarah agreed. She ran a hand through her hair. “Lance, I think I should tell you now…”
Lance put his hand up, stopping Sarah mid sentence. One of the gang kids had nodded to a pair of Blight-Men, and pointed right at Lance. Lance recognized her as the girl with the bad cyber eye. She subtly motioned for Lance to get moving, even as she received a pair of ciggies for payment from the Blight-Man.
Lance nodded once towards the girl. He stood up, and gently took Sarah’s hand. “We should go,” he suggested. He watched as the two Blighters pushed through the crowd, stomping in their direction. Lance pulled Sarah, and began a steady walk away from the incoming Blight-Men. “We should go now.”
“Hey!” One of the Blighters yelled at Lance. “Hey you! You two; stop right now!”
Lance inhaled sharply as he heard the Blight-men cocking their rifles behind him. Alone, he might be able to run, but he wasn’t alone. Lance put his hands up. His heart was racing, but he still managed a smile for Sarah.
“It’s Ok,” Lance whispered. “We haven’t done anything wrong. They probably just want to know about the girl from last night.” He turned and smiled casually. He tried to be subtle as he shifted himself between Sarah and the advancing men.
“They do,” Sarah agreed sadly. She turned as well, and stepped purposely in front of Lance. The two Blighters nearly tripped in their attempt to back pedal as they saw her. They stowed their rifles, and shot to an immediate attention.
Sarah gave an apologetic smile over her shoulder to Lance. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” she told him. “I wanted to.”
Lance stared confusion at the scene. Both Blight-Men were saluting Sarah. Sarah sighed, and saluted back. Lance looked from the men to Sarah, then back to the men. It took him a moment. “Oh,” he said, putting it all together.
“Yeah,” Sarah agreed. “Oh,” She grabbed a hold of Lance’s hand before he could rabbit. The action looked gentle, but Sarah had an iron grip. “C’mon Lance. Please don’t be like that.”
“I didn’t know you were a Blighter,” Lance replied under his breath. He thought of how the men had reacted. “Some sort of Blight-officer,” he corrected.
Sarah bit her lip. “Actually,” she started.
“That is Elite officer Mizumi you are talking to,” one of the troops growled at Lance. “you will show proper respect!”
Lance inhaled sharply at the revelation. The Elite answered directly to Emperor Blight. There were only four, if stories were to be believed, and they were all monsters.
Sarah stared daggers at the Blight-Man. “Yeah, thanks,” she muttered before turning an awkward smile to Lance. Sarah took a deep breath, and squeezed his hand. “This doesn’t have to change anything,” Sarah promised. “We just need you to show us where you saw Kei.” Sarah gave Lance a pleading look. “You were going to show me anyways,” She reminded him.
“Kei,” Lance repeated. “She never told me her name.”
“Which is typical of her,” Sarah sniped. “You don’t know her, Lance.”
“I don’t know you,” Lance retorted. “You lied to me. I thought you and me…” he shook his head. “All you wanted was for me to lead you to Kei.”
“No,” Sarah started. “Yes. At first.” Sarah made a frustrated sound. “I wanted you to tell me where to find Kei, and that was it at first.” She shrugged. “But you told me that, and then, after a while, I just wanted to spend more time with you.”
“Well,” Lance replied sarcastically. “Thanks?”
“Please Lance,” Sarah continued. “I know what you think, but Kei is dangerous, and we need to find her. Lance, please, just show me.” Sarah smiled hopefully. “Just do that for me. Just show me and then me and you can get in my truck and drive away from all of this.”
Lance nodded slowly. He opened his mouth to speak, but was silenced by surprise as he looked over Sarah’s shoulder. Lance smiled. “It looks like you won’t need me to lead you to her,” he stated.
The Blighters swung their rifles up and around to match Lance’s gaze. Even Sarah chanced a look; which was just enough of a distraction for Lance. He open palm jabbed Sarah under her arm, and forced her to let go of his hand. She cried out in pain, and turned on Lance, but he was already dashing away.
“That was totally fair,” he yelled over his shoulder as he ran.
Sarah put a hand up to keep her men from firing at Lance. She ran a hand through her hair, and shook her head. “I can’t believe I just fell for that,” she admitted finally.
“What are your orders ma’am?” one of the men asked.
“Follow him, and bring him back,” Sarah commanded.
“Alive?” The one Blight-Man asked.
Sarah watched as he fingered the trigger of his gun a bit too fondly, and stared at him with distaste. “yes, alive,” she clarified. “He has information on an extremely dangerous fugitive. If he is harmed, you’ll be explaining it to the Emperor personally. Do you understand?”
The troop’s eyes widened in fear. “Yes ma’am,” he assured her as he and his partner turned to give chase.
Sarah watched the two Blight-Men give chase. She sighed, and drooped at the shoulders. “I was going to show him my truck,” she said to herself with a forced chuckle. She felt like she’d been punched in the stomach. Sarah leant against a wall, covered her mouth, and closed her eyes.
“Are you alright?” a sing-song voice asked from beside Sarah. “You’re not going to cry are you?”
“Of course not May,” Sarah replied irritably. She rubbed her eyes quickly before turning to face the girl. “How much did you hear?”
May smiled her eternally optimistic smile at Sarah. She was a good head shorter than most people, with light copper hair that stood in direct contrast to her darkly tanned skin. Unlike Sarah, May was in uniform; a grey military suit with a brown ribbon bowed across her chest.
“I heard about the truck,” May replied. “I heard you tell the men not to hurt your friend.”
“I don’t think he’s my friend,” Sarah replied bitterly.
May didn’t reply to this. She knelt down, and pressed her fingers against the road. Dust rose from the pavement, and swirled around the small girl.
“Your friend is very fast,” May said with her eyes closed. “The two men you sent after him are trying to keep up, but they can’t.”
Sarah knelt down beside May. “Lance is a Runner,” she explained. “Those two can’t catch him.”
“Lance.” May smiled up at Sarah. “What a nice name.” May tilted her head quizzically. “If you knew they couldn’t catch him, why make them chase him?”
“Because Lance is a nice guy,” Sarah replied. She chuckled. “I sent those two to keep him moving. He knows that we’re hunting Kei, and now he knows we’re hunting him. Anyone smart would just keep running, but Lance won’t. Nice guys always do the stupidest things.”
“You think he’ll try to find Kei? He’ll try to warn her?” May whistled. “That is a nice guy.” She smiled slyly at Sarah. “Is that why you like him?”
“My feelings have nothing to do with this,” Sarah replied sharply. “Just tell me what way he goes once he loses the idiots.”
“Kay,” May replied with a shrug. “You want me to contact the others?”
Sarah shook her head. “I’ve got this,” she assured May. “Just point me in the right direction.”