TORN

CHAPTER 2

The two siblings ran, Star in front with her brother close behind her. All those nights going without food had taken their toll on him and Torn was already beginning to feel weak and exhausted, but that didn't stop him from running faster than he'd ever run in his life. His legs ached and his breathing sounded loud and noisy in his ears, every gasp for air a painful shriek in his chest. His heart felt as if it might explode, but he didn't stop. Occasionally he threw a wary glance over his shoulder, making sure that the Guards he'd heard weren't following them. Torn had a sudden horrifying vision of the two of them both being shot in the back by a laser rifle, and ran faster.

He'd remembered the route for the fire escape their parents had drilled them on so intently: out the back door of their house, through their dead, weedy yard, across the ruins of Sector Nineteen and the Slums, and into the trees at the edge of the Sector. Only now did he realize why their parents had really made this plan, as they were fleeing for their lives from a very different emergency.

Although they only ran for a few minutes, to Torn it seemed like an age, a decade, a lifetime. But when Star tripped over a rock just a few feet from the copse of trees where their parents had told them that they'd be safe, time slowed to a halt. Her brother brushed past her before he'd realized what happened, and when she looked up at him he was scared by both the fear in her eyes and the tired resignation he saw there. In a split second, Torn looked up and noticed how obvious and vulnerable the two of them would look from the top floor of their house, two helpless figures that made perfect targets against the yellow dirt, weeds, and open spaces. He looked down at his sister, who wasn't getting up, and decided he would not give up so easily.

"Come on!" he yelled, no longer caring if they were heard as he realized that he wasn't afraid of the Krimzon monsters. He wasn't afraid of being taken prisoner, like he knew his parents had been, and he wasn't afraid of what they'd do to him. His only fear was for Star, that they'd hurt or kill his sister. Torn grabbed her hand and hauled her to her feet, and the siblings stumbled the last few yards into the small copse of trees at the edge of their sector.

When they were finally safe they stopped running. Star collapsed on her hands and knees, shaking from fear and exhaustion, and Torn leaned up against one of the trees and tried to catch his breath, his knees threatening to give out under him. It occurred to him, dimly, why their parents had told them that it would be safe in the grove; Torn had guessed (or perhaps sensed) that the invading Guards would try to pick them off from a high point, and from here the leaves overhead were so thick that it would be impossible to see them, making them safe for the time being. They'd probably never know if there was really a Guard standing on the top floor of their house, hidden in the shadows and patiently staring out the window, waiting to make his shot, or if they'd managed to slip out of their home, for the last time, unnoticed.

Torn knew that he had to think of a plan. If the KG had taken their parents, then they were probably looking for the two siblings as well, and they wouldn't be safe for long if there were really hundreds of Guards hunting for them. He knew that they couldn't return to their home now, that they'd be risking their lives trying to go back as if nothing had happened. He didn't share any of his thoughts with Star, knowing that it all fell on him now. He would have to take care of them, to make sure they weren't captured and stayed alive. Torn would need to think of a plan, and soon. But he couldn't seem to think, couldn't focus. He told himself that he had to be strong, but that didn't help the sick feeling in his stomach, the overwhelming sense of dread and the panic that threatened to shut him down. He needed-

His disjointed thoughts were ripped apart by the sound of an earth-shattering explosion. Surprised, this time Torn's knees really did give out under him, and he managed to look around just in time to see their house obliterated, a could of dirt and debris rising from the ground where their home had once been.

The siblings watched the dust settle in silence. Star made a strange choking noise, and when Torn looked at her he saw tears quietly rolling down her cheeks. He moved closer to her, putting his arm around his sister, and she began to sob uncontrollably, clutching at her brother desperately for comfort. Torn held her, his brow furrowed with concern, although he said nothing. His icy blue eyes were quiet and watchful.


"Attention all citizens! This is your Baron speaking! Be on the lookout for two vicious criminals. They are described a teenaged boy and a young girl, both with red hair and ragged clothing. They are wanted for their parent's crimes, including the murders of several innocent Krimzon Guards, rebellion, and the undermining of our precious social order! The Krimzon Guard needs your help apprehending these menaces, and you owe it to your city to report any sightings of these two monsters. Although they are children, DO NOT BE FOOLED by their innocent appearance! If you see these two, DO NOT approach them as they are dangerous! Report any sightings to your nearest Krimzon Guard."
Three months later, they were hungry and homeless.

His suspicion that the Krimzon Guard were looking for them was confirmed when he first heard the announcements being made throughout the city through the Baron's radio broadcasting terminals. The first time Torn heard the message, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up, his skin prickling with apprehension as he realized that he and his sister were being hunted. He and Star, perfectly innocent siblings, were wanted as criminals! Searching for food and shelter in a city full of homeless wasn't the least of Torn's worries.

Now living on Haven's streets was a game of stealth, learning to avoid Krimzon Guards without looking suspicious, evading an enemy that was literally everywhere. He was constantly on alert, trying to stay hidden in the shadows while he listened in on Krimzon Guard conversations for any hint of danger. Torn discovered that the Guards had begun systematic sweeps of the city, looking for the orphans in dilapidated buildings and warehouses, which, unfortunately for them, were the only places the siblings could find shelter. Star and Torn would manage to find an abandoned, rundown building where they could take refuge, then a few days or perhaps a week later, Torn would overhear the Guards in the area discussing the siblings' whereabouts and which sector they were about to search next, and he and Star would have to begin looking for another home. This went on in cycles. Every time they had to gather their meager belongings and move to another sector, Torn felt like tearing out his hair in frustration, but he couldn't see any other options.

Food was their other problem. Of course it wasn't enough that Torn himself was starving, that sometimes his thoughts became so clouded by his hunger that he felt he might soon lose his mind. Every night Torn would curl up with Star on the hard cement floor of some abandoned warehouse and eventually he'd shiver himself to sleep, and when he woke up the first thing he saw was his sister's face, pale and gaunt, her pretty green eyes ringed with dark circles. With each day that passed she seemed to become thinner and thinner, losing weight, losing strength, losing all of the beautiful life inside of her that Torn was working so hard to protect.

He dealt with this problem any way that he could. Sometimes he'd be prowling the streets and one of the richer citizens would press an Orb or two into his hand, asking him to guard their zoomer from other street toughs. He'd save these up and sometimes be able to buy Star and himself a meal at the end of the day.

But most of the time, he stole.

In light of Haven's food shortage, fruits and vegetables had become regarded as expensive luxuries. Because of the dangers of growing food on the fertile land outside of the city's protective barrier, some of Haven's sectors had been converted into agricultural zones by the Baron, who invested large amounts of the city's money to maintain the land. Because the agricultural sectors belonged to the city, the Baron could charge whatever price he saw fit for the fresh produce. The small fields where the produce was grown were heavily guarded by KG to discourage the homeless from stealing from the city's precious food supply. Most citizens knew enough to steer clear of the Baron's produce. Torn had once seen a homeless man beaten to death by the butt of a Shock Blaster for trying to take a bite out of a waterlope. Even Torn, desperate and hungry as he was, knew enough not to attempt such a thing. He decided the safest place to look for food would be in the Bazaar.

After the produce grown in the agricultural sectors had reached market weight, the Baron sold it to private vendors through the Krimzon Guard. Those vendors then sold the produce in the Bazaar. The Bazaar consisted of two heavily-trafficked sectors of the city, situated close to the agricultural sectors, but since the goods sold in these sectors didn't belong to the city, the Baron didn't feel the need to guard the Bazaar as heavily. Today this was where Torn found himself. The air was hot and humid. Torn wiped his brow with one dirty hand. Standing in an archway hidden in the walls of the Bazaar, he eyed the fruit stands hungrily, deciding which one he would prey on. Torn watched as one older lady tried to run four fruit stands at once. She was overrun with customers, bargaining with at least five people at once by shouting out prices back and forth. No one noticed the thin young teenaged boy standing in the shadows, and Torn knew they would never notice what he took in the confusion.

The thin boy observed one Krimzon Guard, patrolling his subsector of the Bazaar slowly, leisurely, and Torn was confident he wouldn't have any problems with him. He'd been honing his thieving skills for three months now, ever since the day he and Star had fled their home and watched as it was destroyed. But he recalled even when he'd just begun stealing, he hadn't had much of a problem with the Guards. They were cruel and dangerous, willing to shoot innocent civilians on a whim, but also very lazy and brash. The first time he'd stolen fruit from the Bazaar, the vendor had screamed at him, shouting for the Krimzon Guards to arrest him. The nearest Guard had all but completely ignored them.

Now Torn waited patiently for the Guard to change his shift. He reminded himself that while most Guards were lazy and inattentive, he was still playing a dangerous game and it was best to be safe. Sure enough, the Guard soon seemed to lose interest in his duty and wandered off. He spoke into his communicator, swearing audibly about his boredom with patrolling.

Torn sprang. He slipped like a shadow into the mass of bodies huddled in the streets, worming his way into the crowd of his chosen vendor. Surely enough, no one noticed the thin boy with rusty red hair. Discreetly, he reached into one of the shelves and grabbed a handful of plump, ripe pink peachkins, pretending to browse and examine the merchandise while he stealthily wrapped his prize into a dirty grey handkerchief. Although no one was looking at him, his face would have betrayed nothing to the casual observer, blank of emotion. Pretending to lose interest in the vendor's wares, he slipped out of the crowd of bodies as easily as he had come, stuffing the handkerchief with the peachkins in it into his pocket.

He walked away casually, seemingly very relaxed, browsed at a few other vendors for good measure, and then made his escape. He wasn't foolish enough to run. If they hadn't seen you, hadn't suspected you, running was the biggest mistake you could make. But once he was clear of the Bazaar, Torn broke into a fast walking pace, keeping his eyes down and breathing an inward sigh of relief. It was a long walk back to the industrial section, where he and his sister had camped out in an old warehouse. As he walked he let his mind wander, fantasizing about how the peachkins would taste, a lovely rush of sweetness in his mouth.

Torn took a deep breath of Haven City's smog-filled air, glancing at his surroundings. The citizens around him were going about their business, keeping their eyes on the ground or straight in front of them. No one looked at him, no one seemed to notice the skinny teenaged boy that the Baron was hunting to intently. Haven was a cold and impersonal place, and wherever Torn looked, he was surrounded by the bland faces of apathetic strangers who paid him no mind. Strangely, he found the presence of these strangers reassuring; he could allow himself to get lost in the crowd, the anonymity lending him safety and allowing him to slip through the city unnoticed.

He was just one, Torn told himself, one lost in a sea of over three million. But that's not true, he reminded himself. He had his sister, Star, and when he thought of her, waiting quietly for him in an old warehouse in the Slums, he knew he wasn't alone. Not yet.

A Krimzon Guard zoomer roared past him overhead, the backlash of air behind it hitting him in the face. Torn heard the Guard's communicator, transmitting audibly.

"...need you in Sector Twelve, we've got a lead on a pair of street orphans. The Baron wants them apprehended ASAP, doesn't want these two wandering around..."

The rest of the message faded as the zoomer disappeared around the next corner, but Torn had heard enough to set off an alarm. He tried to tell himself he was being paranoid. There were thousands of homeless kids walking around in Haven City, maybe hundred thousands, so what made him think that the Guards were talking about him and his sister?

Because the Baron didn't want the other homeless children. For what their parents had done, he wanted them.

Torn ran the rest of the way to the warehouse.

Now a bizarre feeling of déjà vu swept over him as he ran. The painful rasp in his chest every time he breathed in, the terrible screaming ache in his legs as his feet pounded against the pavement. The all-too-familiar sense that he was running for his life. After an age, a lifetime, he finally reached the crumbling warehouse, his fears confirmed by the Krimzon Guard zoomer parked outside. Upon seeing it, Torn's senses seemed to shut down, overloaded by panic, and he felt as if he were running through a nightmare. He rushed into the warehouse, seemed to not even notice the creaking, useless wooden door as he pushed it aside.

The entire building was falling apart, little more than a few wooden boards nailed to a flimsy metal frame. The whole warehouse seemed ready to fall in on itself. Lights hung from the ceiling, but they'd stopped working long ago, and the building was mostly shrouded in darkness. The only light in the warehouse came from the holes in the ceiling, allowing what little remaining daylight there was to form eerie lit patches on the cement floor.

For a moment when Torn entered it seemed empty, lifeless, but then he heard the voices of Krimzon Guards, drifting from the back of the building in the still air.

"Easy now, sunshine, you don't wanna make this any harder than it needs to be." The words were kinder than he'd expected, but Torn caught the cruelty there, the malicious, mocking undertone, and a snarl of contempt formed on his lips. Squinting, he could just make out the group of Guards standing in the back of the building, the crimson of their armor catching the rays of daylight drifting through the ceiling. They were holding a girl with ruby red hair, the girl Torn recognized immediately as his sister. A gag had been put in her mouth, but he could still hear her muffled shrieks. Without another thought, the teenaged boy strode briskly toward them, not running but making no effort of stealth. Torn set the one closest to him as his target, the masked man whose back was turned and his hands occupied with his gun. They didn't even notice him, too concerned with their task, until he was right behind his chosen target. The Guard whirled around, a startled syllable forming in his mouth. In a flash, Torn balled up his fist and punched the Guard in the face.

The Guard collapsed, clutching at his face with his gloved hands. His mask should have protected him from Torn's hard left hook, but it was designed to shield a Guard's eyes against debris and Metal Head claws. The force of the boy's punch had shattered the flimsy piece of plastic; Torn had heard a sickening crunch which he wasn't sure was the mask or the sound of the Guard's nose breaking. Probably both. For a second, the rest of the Krimzon Guards only stared at him, slow to react. Torn took advantage of this, leaping like a wildcat for a gun holstered at the hip of one of the Guards. He moved clumsily aside, just far enough out of reach for Torn to miss and be sent sprawling on the cement. One Guard, a little quicker than the rest, hauled the boy up roughly by his shirt collar, then forced his hands behind his back, effectively making him helpless.

Star was still shrieking into her gag, and kicked viciously at one of the Guards restraining her. Torn couldn't see what was happening, was struggling desperately to free himself. The Guard shouted angrily. A single shot was fired. The sound rang and seemed to echo off the walls. Torn twisted around violently, trying to see what had happened. Before he could look, he was hit in the face by the butt of a gun. The world seemed to swim, his vision darkened, and then Torn fell unconscious.