7: Cross Examination
“So. How do you plan on infiltrating their system?”
Rose the Runner shrugs, a faint smile tugging at her mouth in the dark. “I was hoping you’d have the answer to that one.”
Daniel shakes his head, studying her. “How did you get away? After I...”
“Betrayed the entirety of the Unnamed?” She finishes, chuckling. “We had people everywhere, Elite Runner Daniel. It wasn’t hard to get free. The hard part was keeping the Unnamed focused on what we were really after: bringing down the Elites. Which, now, includes you. And I’m not sour about it anymore, you know,” she says, beginning to pace. “I”m completely and utterly over it. Well, a part of me still hurts, but, you know--doesn’t matter much to anybody else so why should it to you?”
“Nope, save it. Lucky for you, you’re still at the position we needed you at in the beginning: an Elite. And our goal was to bring them down, once upon a time... but now it seems like they want to bring only you down from revenge. They’re ready to go to war.”
“And how do you expect to stop this war?” Daniel the Elite Runner asks, leaning against the wall beside him. “Wars are nearly impossible to disintegrate once they’re in motion.”
“Ah, but the war hasn’t started, you see.” Rose walks closer. “It’s in its early stages and will no doubt be in full-force once the Competitions roll around.”
“But why would they risk everything to destroy me? I’m only one Elite.”
Runner Rose sighs, crossing her arms and leaning against the wall too. “They want to make an example out of you. And not just to frighten the Elites, but to show the rest of the Unnamed what could happen if they’re double-crossed. Once they have you, the torture doesn’t end there.”
“Then where would it end?”
“When the Elites are all dead and bleeding out.” She pushes herself off the wall and takes a step back, watching Daniel closely. “They’re hungry for revenge, Daniel. It’s stronger than their long for freedom, and they don’t care who they have to go through to get it.”
Her eyes are hard as they look into his. Everything she’s saying is so extreme... but then again they did put a bomb inside of a girl to destroy him. Would his death by explosion be enough of an example for them though? Would it be enough for them? Or would they...
“Why are you here then? It seems like your life is on the line just by talking to me.”
“Oh, trust me,” she scuffs her shoe across the floor, scattering dirt. “It’s way worse.”
“What could be worse?” Daniel asks.
Her eyes rest on his face, intensity burning in them.
“Torture.” Rose’s voice is steady as she lifts her chin a bit higher, her hands continuing to rest on her hips. “It’s hard living once you feel the sting of death in your limbs.”
“Why are you doing this then?” Daniel asks. “Why are you risking everything for something that used to be, and when no one seems to want to think that way anymore? It sounds like that way of thinking is dead.”
“It’s not dead!” She snaps, jabbing a finger at the Elite Runner. Lowering it, she closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. “It’s not dead... They’ve just forgotten...”
Running a hand through her hair, she exhales heavily, her breath and body weighed down by whatever plays in her mind.
“Daniel,” she almost whispers. “Have you ever believed something so fully that you would do anything, and I mean anything for that ideal? Would you kill someone for it? Because I did. The Unnamed wasn’t supposed to be about revenge or bloodlust... but about freedom. And... and I understand that everything comes with a cost, but the cost of those are far steeper than for freedom, whether they fail to see it or not. Freedom will bring happiness, whereas vengeance... vengeance is a fire you can’t smother. It only grows or finds a new home. And I don’t want... that... to be something this rebellion is all about. I need to show them their wrongs. I need to, of all the selfish things I could muster... I need to be free and...”
“Happy?” Daniel the Elite Runner finishes. He wonders if there’s ever been a true time where he’s been one hundred percent happy with his life inside the World. Even running, his mind would weigh with things going on around him.
“Yeah,” her gaze is distant for a moment, and then she turns her attention to the ground laced in darkness. “And... and if your intentions are aligned with any of mine, I beg of you, please...” Her eyes find Daniel’s through the blackness. “Stand with me. Through anything and everything. I know I’m asking for you to give up a lot here. It’s probably mighty comfortable being an Elite.”
“Not lately,” Daniel says, matching her soft volume.
She chuckles slightly, which turns into another sigh as she crosses her arms and leans against the wall. “I know you were a spy when Three, when Runner Jim...” she pauses. “When Jim the Runner recruited you. Not immediately, but I eventually figured it out. The best Runner in the World joining the rebellion, yeah right... I wish I would have seen it sooner... But if I did, we wouldn’t be here right now with all this potential on breaking down the Unnamed’s new way of thinking. And you wouldn’t be an Elite. You’d be dead because I’d probably be the one to kill you.”
Her voice gives out on the last part.
“Yeah, but you’d probably have your freedom right now. You beat Blaise too, remember? You came in second.”
She shrugs. “My story wouldn’t have been as great though, Elite Runner Daniel,” she smirks the tiniest bit. “Just another girl trying to change the world.”
Daniel looks at her strangely. “What are you talking about?”
She shrugs. “Nothing.”
Standing up, she walks over to him, her arms still folded over her chest. Daniel grows nervous for some strange reason as she nears. There could be several reasons, but none of them really processes before she speaks again.
“So are you in? I told you I can’t do this alone, and I really feel as if you could change the world, Daniel.” She shifts her weight uncomfortably as she only uses his Name. It’s a sign of disrespect to not use someone’s Title, but he doesn’t think she’s doing it for that reason. Her breath shivers as she draws it in. ”I need you, Daniel. If you aren’t going to do it for yourself, do it for Jim. Do it for the Chef girl in your mansion. Do it for all the miserable, ignorant, and unknowing people in the World, the Base, and the Planet. Do it for them. When the Unnamed receives the reigns of the three cities, they’re going to go full-force with everything. They’re the ones that were stripped of everything and left to die. They had nothing at one point, and once they have everything, they’ll become uncomfortable with sitting still where there is no conflict. So they’ll create it.”
“How do you know all this?”
“Because I know our history. And history, as often as we’d like to think otherwise, repeats itself.”
“You know of our history?” Daniel asks, dubious. Even the Elite Solver didn’t know everything about the past.
But she nods. “I was under the Elite Leader.”
“You Ran for him?”
She shakes her head. “Not necessarily. I just trained. That’s why he needed you. He liked you better anyway... But that’s beside the point. He would ramble about it when I was training, and I pieced enough of it together to understand and I began writing it down. When I joined the Unnamed I tried to share it but they didn’t care, really. They only wanted to know specific points of the past to try and figure out what to do.”
“So you were like a spy too?” Daniel asks, a smile of his own slipping onto his face.
She scoffs. “Yeah, but I was on the right side.”
“I thought I was on the right side too when I was,” Daniel shrugs.
She shakes her head. “So are you in or out?”
Daniel’s heart is suddenly heavy as she asks the question he even asks himself at this moment. Getting rid of the Unnamed would ensure his safety, yet the drive to be an Elite is so rooted down into his veins it’s hard to let go of his life’s work. On the flip side of that coin, the Unnamed, if they do change the Unnamed’s minds about what they’re doing, and they succeed at what they’re attempting, the world could be different. But could Daniel let it all go?
“Runner Rose, I--”
Voices at the other end of the tunnel.
All of the blood leaves Daniel the Elite Runner’s face and his body goes cold.
Who could be down here in the middle of the night?