“Runner,” he hears. “Come here. I have another message for you to take.”
The boy, the age of seventeen, sprints from his post at the table, where he had been taking a break from training. He’s tall and has incredibly dark skin. His hair hangs down to his shoulders in dreads.
The old man of fifty-seven folds a paper and slides it into an envelope.
“I don’t want anybody seeing this, you understand? It needs to go to the Elite Leader. You should know where he is.”
“Yes, Master,” the Runner says politely, nodding his head. “Is there anything you want me to tell him?”
“Yes. Tell him that this is urgent, and I need him to respond right away,” the old man says in his deep, raspy voice. “I want you to stay in the building with him as he writes his letter back. If he asks why you have not left, tell him it really is extremely urgent.”
The Master hands the white envelope to the Runner, and watches as he runs out the door.
“One more year until that boy earns his name. He deserves it.”
The Runner sprints out of the building and splashes into a puddle that swallows his foot whole. It’s pouring outside.
Rain is never a good thing.
The Runner pulls his black hooded jacket up over his head to block the water and slides the envelope between the Runner’s Jacket and his blue shirt.
Black and blue for the Runners—it’s mandatory.
The rain only gets heavier as his legs take him farther from the white mansion and to the big red one.
It’s a five-story building with a big arch in the front. Columns run along under the roof that hangs over the outer walls like a hat. The doors are grand and black underneath the main red arch of the building. Red roses line the perimeter and every window gave away that all of the lights are on in the building.
The Runner jogs up the narrow steps to the front door, skipping every other step. He takes off his jacket and shakes it out, all of the water falling off of it easily, thanks to the water-resistant material. In his hand he holds the envelope, careful not to crease it as he slides the jacket back on. Without this jacket, he wouldn’t be allowed to receive his name when he turned eighteen next year.
He opens the big, black door and steps into the beautiful room that lies behind it. An elephantine chandelier hangs from the ceiling above the center of the room three stories up, and two white marble staircases wind their way to the second floor. A red carpet is draped like a runway over each step, and the rug on the floor looks like the rare red velvet the Runner has only heard about. He knows it’s not real velvet though. The Elite Leader had told him it wasn’t on one of his runs.
Everything inside is white and red, a contrast to the black and red on the outside of the building.
The Runner waits by the doors, knowing what he needed to do, having done it multiple times before.
“Runner!” The Elite Leader claps once joyfully as he walks down the stairs to greet his guest. “Welcome! It seems as if I haven’t seen you in ages.”
The Runner nods politely, knowing he’s not allowed to say anything but what he came here to say.
“What does Elite Solver Mortimer have for me today? Or is it from a different housing unit?”
“The Master has told me to bring you this,” he says, holding out the white envelope. “He wanted me to say that this is urgent, and that he needs you to respond right away.”
The Elite Leader looks concerned as he opens the letter. He begins to read as he waves at the Runner to follow him. He leads him up three stories, going through an open arch at the top of the stairs on the first floor, and through a long hallway that leads to another set of staircases much like the first ones to the third floor. The Runner follows him all the way to his office, and stands in the doorway as the Elite Leader sits down and runs his chin with his fingers in frustration.
“Do you know about this Runner?”
The Runner just shakes his head. If he speaks of something other then what he was told, there could be serious consequences.
The Elite Leader sighs and looks at him.
“Of course you don’t,” the Elite Leader mumbles, leaning back in his chair and running his hands over his face. He sighs loudly. “It seems your Master has discovered something. Something big.”
The Runner just stares politely, listening to a conversation he could die for should he say anything to anyone about it. All he can do is not think about it and not dream about it to keep his life safe.
“I know you’re worried about what I’m saying,” the Leader sighs, leaning forward to pick the paper up again. “You don’t want to get in trouble. But don’t worry. You’re with me. And as long as you’re with me, and delivering to me, then you’re safe. Just don’t go mouthing off about the conversations you have with the Elite Leader.”
The Runner nods.
“That means you can speak,” the Leader chuckles.
The Runner looks at him. Can he do that? Is that legal?
“Yes sir,” the Runner finally says, his body tensing up.
“It’s a start,” The Leader says, reading back over the letter. “Runner, if I may, I’d like to ask you something.” He pauses, waiting for a response that, of course, never comes. “If you held the fate of the world in your hands, and you gain knowledge on a choice that could disembody and destroy that world, but could possibly make it better, would you make the choice to go through with it?”
The Runners heart race picks up speed.
Is this a test?
“Sir, I think the way things are now is the perfect balance of life and death.”
“Oh don’t give me that,” the Elite Leader says, placing his elbows on his desk. “You were raised to say that, no matter what you think about this world. Tell me your honest opinion. I promise I won’t tell anyone. Besides, I’m the highest of the Elites.”
The Title sends chills and fear coursing through the Runner’s body.
They are the best of the best of each category in the World, the Base, and the Planet, and live to be the best at what they were raised to do.
After all, there can only be one in each city.
“I think the way things are now is the perfect balance of life and death.”
The Elite Leader sighs, giving up.
“Alright, Runner. Let me write your letter,” he says as he takes out a pen and paper.
The rain was still falling by the time the Runner made it back to his Masters’ mansion. Pools of water had accumulated in the streets in the time he spent in the Elite Leaders’ mansion.
The Runner shakes off the water from his clothes and walks inside. His Master is still sitting at his table, tapping away on the screen of his large computer that sat on top of it like a blanket. It’s thin and rollable, but most of the existing ones are smaller. He gets the biggest one because he is the Elite Solver. He solves problems the world faces and tells the Leader what the solution is.
The old man looks up and adjusts his glasses before taking the envelope. He opens it up and scratches the white beard that hides his neck from view.
“You may go now, Runner,” he says absentmindedly. “I don’t need you anymore today.”
The Runner nods respectfully and sprints out the door. He runs across the busy streets filled with people and into one of the housings for the Runners. The Runner’s Building.
Treadmills line the inside walls, and boys and girls of all ages occupy every one of them. A few do squats in the corner, strengthening their legs and challenging each other. This is what they do in their free time, aside from rest up. They don’t know much else besides running and winning, the government and it’s laws, and exercising. There isn’t much else to do.
The Runner walks down the stairs in the front of the room to the Beds. Bunks stacked three stories high are crammed in together all around the basement area. Some Runners are sleeping, while others do workouts to strengthen their core and leg muscles.
The Runner takes off his jacket, identical to everyone else’s. The only exception is for the red wing on the right sleeve. That means he’s one of the Elite Leader’s Runners. Mortimer the Elite Solver shares him with the Elite Leader because it’s no doubt he’s one of the best Runners.
The jacket has an emblem on the back of a black outlined foot with a pair of wings surrounded by the color blue, symbolizing he is a Runner. The Elites chose this Path for him when he was five, and he was taken from his parents and set in this place. He’s always been naturally good at running, though he never had to try as hard as anyone else. He gains muscle easily and figured out the proper breathing technique while in motion.
The Runner climbs into the very top bunk on one of the outer beds and stares at the ceiling hanging two feet above his face.
He thinks of the Competitions. There is one for every Path, and there are rankings for each one. The top ten are placed in a room together for three days to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Once the time is up, they each get called up to race, and the ones with the fastest times make it into the top five. They top five then go to the last stage: the Elite Race.
For this one, it’s good to have advantages, and to know what they are because you go up against the Elite, who’s life is dedicated to his or her Category, and that Category alone. No matter how old the Elites are, years on end they’ve beaten people to keep their position.
Beating the Elite would make the old Elite retire (or go off to their death) and make the new winner the next Elite. This had only happened three times since this structuring system had been around. This problem was fixed when the first Elite died unexpectedly in Year Ninety of the New World, and they just brought the next best thing: the Second Place.
Eventually the Runner falls asleep, but not before asking himself a dangerous question.
What had the Master told the Elite Leader about?