Breakfast was as uneventful as it always was. We filed in, ate our bread and cheese- not much, as our building was running low on milk- and then went up two floors to the SuperTrain platform.
The SuperTrains are the unmanned monorails that run throughout the entire City and can stop at any house. They are supposed to be on time, but they never actually are, especially not in the morning when everyone in the City is travelling to work or school.
After about 10 minutes of waiting, the SuperTrain finally arrived, filled almost entirely with children from our school, the North Hydrangea School. It was the only school this close to the Wall- the border around our City- and was the last stop on the SuperTrain route before it headed straight back to the Hub and started again.
Everyone piled into the SuperTrain. Most of the compartments were full, but everyone found a space and it started to move.
Somehow, I managed to find enough space to stand next to a window. This was unusual, as the views out of the window on the way to school look out over Old Greeny, the largest area of green space outside of the Hub, so obviously, everyone found it fascinating.
The journey to school was very quick, as usual, and we arrived at our first lesson in good time. Which is a shame, because it was IPC, and being late means you have to do less of it, which is worth visits to the headmaster during lunch.
“Be quiet, class!” said our teacher, Mrs Grey. She tapped her foot on the floor while we settled. “Now then, you had homework for today. I trust none of you have forgotten it?”
There was a silence.
“Good. Get it out and we’ll mark it.” Pepper and Storm, two boys from my Home, raised their hand. “Yes?”
“We can’t mark ours. Our best friends are in a different year,” said Pepper.
“You should have said that when I was giving you your homework!” grumbled Mrs Grey. “Go outside and Rist them. I’ll send a message to their teacher. Which class are they in?”
“Well, Clay is in 7K and I think Jett is in 9B…” Pepper said, uncertainly.
“Now you’re just being inconvenient. Not only are your Best Friends in different years, but they’re in different classes!”
“Sorry…” muttered Pepper and Storm.
Mrs Grey sighed and tapped the back of her wrist. Immediately, a hologram of the RistB logo appeared. She tapped it and, after scrolling through the menus, managed to send a message to the IPC teachers.
“Now go and Rist them! Quickly!” she snapped. “And the rest of you- why aren’t you marking?! Get on with it!”
The two boys quickly ran out. Amber turned to me.
“Well… we’ve got everything right.”
There was a long, awkward silence which was only broken when Mrs Grey went within hearing distance of us and we had to loudly discuss how I had correctly named Amber’s first friend from when she was 3.
The rest of the day was as uneventful as usual, except for the fact that there was a City-wide shortage of carrots, so we couldn’t have them at lunch. However, the end of the day brought with it unfortunate news.
“What do you mean the SuperTrains are down and we’ll have to walk?!”
“I mean exactly what I said,” said the headmaster, Mr Rosewood, glaring at the guy who’d shouted. “Please find someone to walk back to your Home with. Whatever you do, don’t walk down there unaccompanied.”
Everyone immediately shuffled closer to their friends or made eye contact, claiming them for their own before someone else grabbed them and some were left to become the third wheel of a pair who would ignore them the entire time.
We were dismissed and Amber and I were just about to leave the assembly room when Clay ran up to us.
“C-can I, um, c-come with you?” he stuttered, out of breath. “My fr-riend l-left me.”
“I don’t mind,” said Amber. “Rayven?”
“Yeah, sure,” I shrugged.
We found the stairs and went all the way to the bottom of the building. The giant oak doors were open, but we could see almost nothing past the pale light of the unused hallway. Most people had already gone; you could hear them running as fast as they could in the direction of their Homes. Some people had torches, so you could see the circle of light jiggling up and down as they ran. Clay pressed against me. I pressed against Amber. Amber shuddered.
“Well, we’d better get going, or it’ll get even darker,” she decided.
“I suppose it’s not very far,” I said, trying to sound positive despite the fact that I was literally shaking with nerves.
As we stepped out of the hall and started to jog, I tried not to think about the rumours I’d heard about the gaps between houses. As the buildings in the City are so tall, almost no light gets to the ground, which means that they are the biggest hotspot for crime and made most of the citizens stay well clear of them. Everybody knew somebody who’d gone down and been robbed, beaten up or worse.
I could hear Clay panting behind me and Amber’s loud footfall far ahead of me.
“Slow down!” I shouted. “Clay’s struggling!” So was I, but I didn’t particularly want to admit it.
“Ok, let’s just get to Old Greeny and then stop!” came the reply from far ahead. If I had had any breath left I would have sighed, but, as I didn’t, I kept running.
We finally arrived at Old Greeny. A few couples were walking around, staring at the old buildings. I was never sure why they originally built them to only have one or two stories. Surely it would be less efficient; fewer people in a set area. After a while, of course, they had built more two-story houses on top, but it was still strange.
Amber was already sitting on a rock. When she saw me, she stood up and leaped gracefully off it.
“Where’s Clay?” she asked.
“He’s probably still running,” I explained. “I said he was struggling and you didn’t listen.”
“Well I’m sorry, I thought he was only struggling a bit!”
“How about you go and help him, then?”
“FINE!” shouted Amber and ran back into the darkness. I sat down on the same rock that she was standing on just a minute before and began to wait.
After about ten minutes, I started to get worried. Amber could run extremely quickly and, anyway, even Clay didn’t run THAT slowly. I got up off the rock and, despite my fear, ran back into the darkness.
“Amber?” I called. “Clay? Are you there?”
The only reply to my shouts was a quiet echo.
I slowly moved further into the darkness. Around the corner, there was a light hanging outside a house. I stood in the doorway and, in the faint flicker of the lamp, tried to Rist Amber. The RistB hologram appeared.
“Why does it take so long to start?” I muttered impatiently under my breath. It was getting quite cold- it was the beginning of winter, I supposed- and I was moving my weight from one foot to another in an effort to keep warm.
Just then, a hand clamped around my mouth, my left arm was dragged behind my back and I was pulled into the house.
My captor swung round and pushed me up the stairs. Having been caught by surprise at first, I now realised what was happening and started to struggle.
“Stop trying to escape!” came a man’s voice. “I’m not trying to hurt you, I promise.”
Like I was going to believe that.
After several flights of dark stairs, I was pushed through a door into the front room of someone’s apartment. If I was not forcefully dragged into it, I would have found it quite pleasant. The glow of the presumably fake fire in the fireplace filled the front room, making it seem more welcoming. There were a few armchairs gathered around the warmth, with a small table in front of them. A pile of paper lay there, partly off the side as if it was about to fall off. On the left side of the room, a door led off into a dark corridor.
I was shoved into one of the armchairs and tied to it.
“Rayven!” said someone. I looked towards the voice and, to my surprise and delight, saw Clay.
“Oh, thank the skies that you’re not dead!” I exclaimed. “Where’s Amber?”
“Look right,” said the man, who had come around to stand in between my and Clay’s chairs. I whipped my head round and saw her limp, unconscious form in the chair next to me. I gasped in shock, tears springing to my eyes.
“Yeah, I’m sorry about that,” said the man. “She was struggling too much so I knocked her out. She should be alright; I’ll just get the smelling salts.”
“What do you want?!” I demanded. I was so close to crying. “Why did you kidnap us?! Why did you bring us here?!”
“Calm down! Don’t worry, I’ll explain,” said the man, hurriedly returning from a chest of drawers on the opposite side of the room. He brought a tissue up to Amber’s nose. “You see, it’s about your parents.”
I jolted with the unexpectedness, my tears disappearing instantly. “What is there to say about my parents?” As far as I knew, they’d abandoned me at birth.
The man laughed. “What isn’t there to say about your parents? Oh, hey, your friend’s awake.”
It was true- Amber was groggily trying to prop herself up.
“See? I said she’d be alright!” the man said, triumphantly. I wasn’t convinced, but I ignored it and instead decided to pursue the topic of my parents.
“So, what do you have to do with my parents?” I asked.
“What do I have to do with them?” repeated the man. “Well, you could say I was their best friend.”
“What else could you say?” asked Amber. She was staring nervously at the fire
“Well, nothing really,” admitted the man. “I was just saying it to make everything sound more dramatic. I was their best friend- as far as I know- and when they died they trusted me to keep their records safe. More specifically, this record here…”
He was quickly typing something into his RistB. An Aura- audio recording- popped up and he tapped on it.
“Listen,” was his only instruction.