Talya raced through the city, the wailing of loud, sharp screams echoing behind her. She hadn't meant to do it. The knife was sharp, pointed. She wiped it hastily with her rusty brown jacket, throwing the weapon to the side. It clattered with crisp pings to the concrete below. Nearly losing her balance on her faintly glowing Floater, the teenager heard the high beeps of a Kill Alert. City-wide. They'd found the others.
She hadn't meant to murder them, either. Her breath began to come out in staccato puffs. Where could she hide? The Top? No, the high-class citizens would report her immediately. Flying past a large sign now baring a grainy picture and her Citizen's ID card photo, Talya knew that she was in high danger of being found. Of being sent back Under.
That's where she could hide. Deep down in the slummy Under. With the Unders. Where she had been born, her birthplace but never her hometown. She acted instantaneously, spinning her Floater around a sharp corner. The edge of a brick building scraped her right arm, skinning it lightly. The blood. Had they sent the Searchers after her? They could smell the blood. Talya snatched a glance at her clothes. They were stained, wet and red with evidence to her crime. A city-wide announcement rattled the girl's bones, interrupting her panic only to raise it a level.
"Kill Alert. Victim: Helena Vich, aged 23, Top citizen and head of Incorporated Marketing, Inc. Murderer: Talya Withspinner, aged 17. Reward: high level, citizenship. Dispatch Searchers."
In her careful listening, Talya didn't see another person approaching her on their own Floater.
"Oof!" the person, a boy, screeched, toppling from their own Floater. It was yellow – the color that Talya had always wanted. The panicked killer stopped her own Floater in response, mouth gaping.
"Wh-I-got to-" she stammered. The victim, who was a young boy of about fourteen, grimaced at her before his ethereal green eyes widened to the size of the danger Talya had come upon.
"You're - the Kill Alert…." He said, hand edging towards the yellow REPORT button that all standard issue Floaters had. It would send out a signal, alerting the Searchers and even the bounty hunters from Under to her position. Luckily, Talya's own Floater wasn't standard issue. She sped away, forgetting the boy. He had seen her – but that wasn't strange in itself, the whole Inside had probably seen her face pasted onto the electronic billboards.
But would he tell? There's no way he could know where she was going, right? Talya took the sharp dip into the depths of a secret Under bridge. Merging instantly with the traffic, Talya knew she was safe. The announcements never cared to reach Under. After all, it was really just an oversized jail. Era and Indale, her childhood best friends, swung out from their speed-holds lining the bridge, bumping her Floater with their own.
"Hey, Talya. What's up?" Era grinned, his teeth whiter than they should have been. The friends had long synchronized their Floaters in case Talya returned. They had obviously been waiting for her runaway plot in the Inside to fail. It had. She was a killer. Dutifully, she smiled back.
"Nothing much. Tired of those idiots in the Inside. This is where the fun is," she said.
Indale swerved, chuckling. "I know how you feel. So glad you're back."
"Yeah," Talya sighed, slowing her Floater's pace a little. "I know."
They hurried to the Check-In. Talya's citizenship in Under had to be assured before her safety was garaunteed. Her friends urged her forwards, faster.
"Hurry!" Indale's pale, thin face was beading with sweat. Sirens were fuzzily sounding overhead. "What did you do?"
Talya swallowed, shouting above the traffic noises. "I couldn't help it." She choked.
"Who!" demanded Era.
"Helena Vich, head of Incorporated Marketing."
Era growled at Indale. "I told you. She couldn't pick an Under, a nobody. Damn it, Talya!" he raged, smacking a fist on his open palm. Talya flinched. She hated when Era got like this. Temperamental and seething, he wouldn't easily forget this crime.
Indale's temper wasn't calm, either. "Have they sent Searchers? How big was the Kill Alert?"
"City-wide. They sent everyone. Everyone, Indale." Worry shook Talya's timid voice. Era wiped a hand down his face, making the nearly impossible turn to the Check-In station with ease. The trio was unrivaled in their racing skills, partly due to Indale's extreme mechanical skill.
"Everyone? Does that include…..Akell?" ventured Indale. Talya nodded.
"Do you have any idea what you've done, Talya?" seethed Era through clenched teeth. "He'll find you. And he won't be merciful this time."
Talya stared downwards at the blurring ground below. "I know," she whispered.
Era's Floater sped up, leaving the two girls together.
"You're playing a dangerous game, Talya. Era's right; Akell has changed. He'll kill you just like you did Helena." Indale warned calmly. She understood marginally what had happened, when Talya lived in the Top. Talya shoved her finger into the tiny finger-sized hole in the glass of the Check-In center. It was basically a dead end in the passages, a massive sheet of glass manned by machines. Talya flinched as the tip of her index finger was pricked by the needle-carrying machines known as Nurses, the singular droplet of blood checking her into Under.
Indale's shoulder slumped when Talya turned back to her.
"He was a mistake you can't get back, Tally. You need to stop this."
Talya shook her head, tears welling in her eyes. She didn't let them fall. She was much to strong for that. "I can't believe that. I never did."
Indale, Era, and Talya pulled into their shared apartment. Their floaters were turned off immediately, rigged by the door to the living space. It, like all homes in Under, was carved out of the concrete walls of the tunnels. The entrance, a retreating impenetrable shield of glass-looking electronically-devised substance, revealed the highway outside and the plentiful travelers who zipped by in a steady stream. Talya swung her bag from across her chest and shoulder, flinging it onto her bed. Era made a weak effort to look at her.
"Is the weapon…?" he trailed off.
"Gone," Talya assured, defeated. Era held out his tan, large hand. Knowing the response, Talya shrugged out of her rustic jacket and handed the clothing over. Calm and resigned, Era walked to the far wall where a thick red laser beam hummed. He tossed the coat into it. A bzzt sounded throughout the room before it fell quiet again. The laser released a small poof of black, thick smoke before the evidence of Talya's latest murder was permanently gone.
Indale pulled a long, cream and gold loose-fitting dress from her packed closet, smiling shakily and holding it out to Talya. Talya took it. Every new Check-In meant the Acceptance Ball, and that meant putting on her public face again. She changed in privacy of her personal bathroom, shimmying into the silky fabric and straightening her blond-streaked hair until it was sleek and shiny. She added thin, big gold earrings to her ears and strappy golden heels to her feet. Emerging, she glanced over her friends, who would perform the Introducing at the Ball for her….again.
Era looked at her with a kind of sad disappointment playing in his features, arms crossed in his dark blue tuxedo. Indale was in a gaudy patterned dress which reached all the way to the floor, sweeping over her black, spiked wedges. They both were stunning.
Talya smoothed her short dress. "Let's go." She said to her friends. They nodded, just like they had always done the other forty-two times that Talya had returned from the Middle. They called it an obsession, an insane, fruitless addiction.
And she knew that they were right every single time.