Rise - Chapter One - Gabriel Arnold

Rise, Chapter 1, by Gabriel Arnold

The city air was thick and humid, the hazy early heat of a late May morning. Buildings like colors slid by in flashes of concrete grey and steel beam silver, neon yellow streetlight and glistening clear window. Faces emerged and disappeared quick as firecrackers, faces of men and women he’d never know. Sprinting down Washington Avenue, Rusty darted through the crowds, side stepping stragglers and barely missing a herd of baby strollers. Early 90’s rock blasted through Rusty’s eardrums, his SEED music buds canceling out the screech and groan of delivery trucks in the street. Sweat soaked the undersides of his arms and dripped heavily off the tip of his nose. Through all this mayhem though, all he could hear, all he could feel, was his breath surging through his chest and his legs pounding the pavement. It was a mad dash of Hollywood standards. Three blocks to go, five minutes left. A runner stealing home in the World Series couldn’t have put on a better show.

He swiped his train pass through the electric reader and crashed through the revolving gates in one haphazard motion, barely keeping stride as he took the stairs three steps at a time. He skidded around the final corner and his hundred-fifty pound frame was almost knocked off its feet by the weight of his overstuffed backpack. He caught himself just before he hit the ground and came to a halting, jerking stop at the edge of the Mag-Lev train platform. It was practically deserted with only one or two businessmen lazily reading newspapers. Hands on his knees, shirt and skin nearly soaked through to the core, he panted hard and stared down the tracks. He could see the train’s headlight coming through the tunnel a half mile away. He’d done it; he’d made the train on time. Eight blocks in barely ten minutes, that had to be a new personal best.

Rusty smiled despite the burning cramp in his side, realizing he could finally relax. It was May 31st after all, the last day of school before summer vacation. In just a few short hours he’d be free, free for three whole months. Three months without Shakespeare reports or lazy teachers or lockers with broken locks. A chance to sleep, soak up some sun, maybe even try his luck with asking Jenna Harrison out on a date. The Mag-Lev was quickly approaching and Rusty felt so good that he started to rock out on air guitar, fingers picking the hot air as the solo took off. He closed his eyes and bobbed his head up and down as the crescendo finale reached its zenith. For a moment Rusty actually felt like he flying through the air, weightless in the moment.

A sickening crunch in his stomach snapped Rusty back to the real world. Eyes wide in confusion, he looked down and saw he was lying on top of something hard and metallic, something digging into his gut. He whipped his head around like an owl, cringing as the pain in his stomach grew. What the hell had just happened? Rolling off the metal object and onto his side, Rusty finally figured out where he was: on the train tracks. Somehow he had fallen off the platform and dropped six feet down onto the rails, barely missing the electrified portions that kept the train rolling. On either side of him were smooth high walls, painted white like clouds. Below him was the steel and electronic infrastructure of the Mag-Lev’s tracks, sparking and buzzing with millions of volts of power. And bearing down, barely a hundred yards away and closing fast, was the Mag-Lev itself. Rusty’s wide eyes grew even wider as he realized the horrifying truth. He was going to be run over, killed, by the speeding train. His muscles wouldn’t move, his bag felt like a house on his back. This was it.

A solid wall of a man appeared in front of Rusty. He hadn’t made a single sound when he landed and with one arm he scooped up the fallen boy and hoisted him over his shoulder. Moving with surgeon precision in between the electric rails, the man tip-toed his way to the wall and leapt towards it, gripping the smooth edge with only the fingertips of one hand. In the same leaping motion he pulled both himself and Rusty up, topping out with ease and snapping his legs up and under him. The train came blasting into the station a fraction of a second later, so close to the man’s back that a quarter couldn’t have slid in between them.

As the Mag-Lev came to a stop the man gently set Rusty down. Hyperventilating and on the verge of shock, the emotionless man reached into a small bag at his hip and pulled out a slim plastic bottle of water. Unscrewing the cap, he emptied the contents onto Rusty’s head without hesitation. The cold shower brought the kid back again and Rusty started sputtering and stammering in disbelief.

“Wha-hhhuuuhh-ah-ttt, what, haap-happened?”

The human wall placed the empty bottle back into his bag and looked down at the kid with stern eyes.

“You weren’t paying attention and danced your ass right off the edge. You almost died. Should pay closer attention to your surroundings.”

At last Rusty’s mind was catching up to the situation and in a slow, humble move he glanced up at his rescuer. The mysterious man looked like something out of a war movie. A middle aged man, perhaps early to mid forties, but unlike any man Rusty had ever seen. Six feet of solid, deeply tanned muscle, every tendon and fiber in perfect definition. He wore a tight black sleeveless shirt and loose white pants that were stained with dirt and flecks of blood. His head was shaved nearly to the scald and even with the close cut you could see he had a deeply receding hairline. His hands were gnarled with fingers that looked like they’d been born as claws and calluses the size of silver dollars. There were several scars on his forearms and one especially prominent one that started just to the edge of his right eye and traced a faint, curving white arc across and behind his ear. But it was his eyes, his so crystal blue they were practically grey eyes that caught Rusty’s undivided attention. They were the eyes of a man fully confident in every movement he made and word he spoke. There were as solid and unyielding as everything else on his body.

“Th-Thanks man. Sir. You saved my life.”

“Don’t worry about it. Just promise you’ll look around next time and take a step back when you wanna jam.”

“Yeah, yeah I will.”

The man was continuing to stare down at Rusty, his pale blue eyes now squinted slightly, as if trying to see through the boy straight into the ground. Rusty started to pick himself up and finally asked, “What? What is it?”

“That red hair…I feel like I’ve seen you somewhere before.”

“Me? I, I don’t know. Maybe. I’ve never seen you. Who are you anyway?”

The man took one final look up and down the length of Rusty’s slim, five-foot-eight body. Seemingly satisfied with what he saw, he picked his gaze up and looked directly into Rusty’s eyes before replying, “Owen.”

The loud speakers of the station suddenly blared that the Mag-Lev would be leaving in thirty seconds and that all passengers should get onboard. Not wanting to miss his final day, Rusty picked up his heavy bag and slung it over his shoulder, his back bending slightly under the strain. His stomach still hurt but he hid the pain, not wanting to appear any more weak before the wall of a man named Owen. Stepping through the open doors, Rusty looked back and said awkwardly, “Well, uh…thanks again Owen. I hope you don’t mind me asking but, um…are you a Runner? Do you practice PKFR? I’ve never seen someone that strong or fast.”

Owen’s previously stern eyes slammed into thin slits and his chapped lips grew thin with anger. In a clear, intimidating voice he replied, “I’m not a Runner. I don’t practice PKFR. I’m a Tracer. I practice parkour .”

Rusty could only blink and stare at the man. A Tracer? What was a Tracer?

Owen’s angry demeanor quickly shifted however and his calmer though still stern manner soon returned. Reaching into the same small bag at his waist, he pulled a slip of paper and a pen out and hastily scratched out an address. Handing the slip to Rusty, he said, “I don’t expect you to understand. Come to this spot tomorrow at noon. I think you could use our training. You might even like it.”

The doors closed with a hiss of releasing pressure and the train started to hum with electricity as it gained speed. Within half a minute the station was far away, and Owen along with it. All that remained was Rusty...and the dream of what was to come.

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Written by Paul Mederos   
Monday, 06 April 2009 08:12
Last Updated on Monday, 13 December 2010 21:42