We took two cars.

I sat in the backseat of an unmarked grey Jeep, JJ packed in beside me, while Kiro drove. Wherever the train rails where, they clearly weren’t public knowledge. We bounced and grinded our way across mudded-out back roads, plowed through thick underbrush, and more than once had to backtrack to find a route that didn’t require drowning in a river. In short, we took full advantage of the four wheel drive. And as my head jolted back and forth, I caught glimpses of the area, barely visible in the glow of the Jeep’s headlights. It was mostly wooded badlands – giant oaks, palmettos – but one thing struck me as odd: the lack of the city skyline. Jackson was tiny. It should have been there.

“Where are we?” I said.

“About two miles out,” JJ said, tapping the GPS on his cell phone.

“No. The city. This isn’t Jackson, is it?”

JJ hesitated and I saw Kiro’s eyes flash in the rear-view. The silence was obvious enough. They didn’t trust me, and that was fine. I didn’t trust them either.

Three days ago, I’d been a street urchin. Not an awesome living, but at least I’d had some semblance of control over my life. Here, with these people, I had no control. They called it protection – protection for my own good – but really, there was no way around it; I was a prisoner, plain and simple.

I met Kiro’s eyes in the mirror and all thoughts of ROOT 4 as my savior vanished like a line of coke through a rolled up twenty. “Really?” I said. “After that whole bullshit speech you gave about trust, you’re not even gonna tell me where I’ve been kidnapped to?”

For a moment, silence settled over the car, then Kiro finally sighed. “Athens,” he said, as he dropped his foot to the floor. The car lurched forward, powering through a thick mud puddle and spraying it up over the windshield. “We’re in Athens.”

“As in Georgia?” I’d moved a whole freaking state over without realizing?

“Mmmhhmm,” JJ murmured beside me, nonchalant as he leaned back in his seat, forehead pressed against the window. I was about to respond, when suddenly he tensed up. “We’re here.”

I glanced out the window as the Jeep rolled to a stop and Kiro killed the lights. From the look of it, we sat atop a cliff. I couldn’t tell how steep from inside the car, but the ground seemed to drop off abruptly about twenty yards ahead. After a minute, Aiden and Olivia pulled up alongside us. Kiro had insisted on the second car. Whether it was part of the plan, or simply to keep Aiden away from me, I didn’t know.

We all got out.

“Alright,” Kiro said, as he walked over to the cliff and peered over. “You guys know the drill. O, get to work. JJ and Aiden, you’ll pack the charges with me. I want everything ready in ten. Rainey?”

“I’m right behind you.”

Kiro turned around and walked back to the car. He grabbed two glow sticks out of the glove box, cracked them in half and tossed one on the ground, the other to me. The area around the Jeeps took on a neon green hue. “Rainey, you’re staying topside with O.”


“Yeah,” I said, annoyance coloring my voice, “sure.”

It’s not that I wanted to be involved. After all, I didn’t do well with people and I wasn’t exactly the team-player type. Really, I just hated feeling useless, disregarded. Like I was the only person there without a purpose, like I existed only to get in the way.

O walked over to the other car, pulled a laptop out of the backseat, and set it up on the trunk. I joined her, handing over the glow stick.

“So you’re really gonna blow up a train?”

She turned to look at me but kept typing, her fingers a blur across the keyboard. “That’s the plan.”

“Won’t they have taken precautions by now? This is the fifth one you’ve hit, right?”

“Sixth,” O said. “And don’t worry. We’re pretty good at this.” She smiled, then pointed to something above her laptop screen. There was nothing there but a neon-green view of the tree line, so I assumed she was jacked into the Grid, viewing a virtual screen. “See? They’ve tripled security. And some of these signature IDs are military. Don’t know how they pulled that off, but…”

She glanced up at me, realization dawning on her face. “Oh, right. I forgot.” She rummaged through her pocket, then tossed me a vial. I caught it and turned it over in my hands. Small silver beads rolled back and forth, clinking against the sides of the container.

It was Vert all right, but not the liquid kind. This was the original form – the kind mass produced in the beginning, before people discovered the drug could be melted down and altered for a quicker, more intense high. Unlike the eye drops sold on the street, the beads were a slow release formula. They provided a sustained, steady connection to the grid with none of the highs and lows seen with the other formulations. Because of that, there was a much lower risk of addiction.

Lower, but still there.

I fingered the cap. “Won’t they know if I jack in?”

“We took care of that.”

“How?” I said, stiffening.

“When you were unconscious we… injected a tracer into your blood stream.”

“Of course you did.”

“It had to be done, Rainey. To protect us. To protect -”

“Me,” I said. “To protect me.”

O nodded. I handed her back the vial. “I’m gonna take a walk.”

“Rainey, wait a second.”

But I was already gone.

I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t even surprised. I was just tired, tired of it all. This was the longest I’d been with the same group of people since leaving home and it was already starting to wear on me. I couldn’t help but think how utterly pathetic that was.

I headed toward the edge of the clearing. The space we were camped on was a small opening sandwiched between dense underbrush and a steep hill. Rain had turned the dirt to mud and the burning Georgia sun had cooked it into a fine sheet. So as I approached the cliff, the ground cracked, forming spider webs beneath my feet. I kept my distance from the edge and peered over.

About a mile away, an area had been carved out of the woodlands and turned into a militarized zone. Under the floodlights, I could just make out a barbed wire fence surrounding the perimeter, enclosing a small train depot and what looked like a control station. A sleek, electric train sat on a set of tracks, passing through the fence at two ends. I couldn’t make out any other entrance points. No gates, no tunnels, no bridges. And around the area were armed guards. About a dozen in all.

I walked back to O. Her fingers moved across an invisible keyboard a foot above the laptop. “Well?” she said, looking up.

“I hope you guys know what you’re doing,” I said.

O punched the Return key on the physical keyboard, while simultaneously striking what I assumed was a key on the virtual one. A confirmation beep sounded and she looked up and smiled at me. “We’ve got it covered.”

Just then, Kiro walked over, Aiden and JJ in toe. Aiden carried a backpack slung over his shoulder, JJ a rifle. “We’re ready with the charges,” Kiro said. “How are we with access?”

“We’re OK,” O said. She pointed to something a foot in the air, invisible to me, but clearly there for everyone else. “I couldn’t get into their system, it’s rock solid. But I was able to set up a Distrupter. You’ll only have thirty seconds, but everything should be down, including thermals.”

“Good,” Kiro said. He checked his watch. “They’ll be loading the train now, which means we’ve got an hour to get on board, set the charges and get out. JJ, Aiden -”

“On it,” they said in unison. They nodded toward O, who said, “good luck,” then took off into the woods.

Kiro turned back to us. “Keep in touch,” he said. “It’s all going to come down to timing.”

“Will do,” O said.

Kiro clasped her on the shoulder, gave me a quick glance, then ducked into the tree line, following JJ and Aiden toward the train depot.

In his absence, the night seemed to get darker, the silence louder. I looked at Olivia. “What now?”

She typed something out on the laptop, then closed it.

“Now we wait.”

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6 thoughts on “2.01

  1. Hierakles says:

    Whelp, I reeaaally don’t like these ROOT 4 guys. Kinda hoping to see this whole train thingy go belly up, even if it may be a case of cutting off the nose to spite the face in regards to Rainey.

    • eventoe says:

      Hmm, I’ll have to read through again. The idea is that right now they feel handcuffed by Rainey. They’ve been doing this awhile, it’s dangerous, and they have their own routine down and now that Rainey’s been thrown into it, they’re not sure how to proceed/how to keep her safe without putting all of them in danger. A couple of them feel she’s just going to get in the way and get them all killed. Thanks for reading!

  2. fallintolife says:

    Hey, just got the time to read this! I like it. Nice concept, world-building that started off subtle enough that we absorbed it without knowing, then the plot worked right in.

    In regards to the comment above, they do come off that way. She’s dangerous, keeping her is dangerous, throwing off their groove is dangerous. It doesn’t make them any more likeable, from my point of view. Understandble, but not likeable.

    • eventoe says:

      Hey, thanks for the kind words! I’m glad you’re enjoying the story so far. As for ROOT 4, that’s definitely fair. I might make some small changes but it’s more or less what I’m shooting for (for now).

  3. anonymus says:

    thanks fro the new chapter


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