Chapter 7: Running the Clock (Energia: Titans of Verità)

Energia: Titans of Verità
Table of Contents (For Catching Up)

Sharp, electric pain shot through her chest, coursing through her entire body. She felt as though she had just been hit in the stomach with a sledgehammer. The wind flew from her lungs as she keeled over. Her legs became weak beneath her, nearly collapsing as they turned into pudding. The man pushed the buzzing stun gun further into her gut like he was carving her with a knife.

After recovering her senses, Anna mustered her strength and punched her attacker’s gut as hard as possible. He keeled over, clutching his stomach and gasping for air. The weapon came away from her as he retreated, and the majority of the pain retreated with it. Now free from the electric torment, Anna backed away several paces and caught her breath.

She couldn’t keep it for long, as the man’s friends quickly bore down on her with their own buzzing weapons. This time, Anna was prepared. She ducked and dashed beneath the first of her new attackers, then struck hard at the back of his knee, knocking him off of his feet for a devastating follow-up punch into his stomach. As he tumbled onto his face, the second attacker was upon her, stabbing his weapon into Anna’s face. She caught his arm, stopping the blow inches from her nose, then gave him a mighty kick to the shins.

As she stood up and backed away once again, her original assailant returned to his feet. He and Anna slowly circled one-another, giving his friends enough time to get back up. Both of them nearly charged her again, but their leader stopped them with a hand, making an obvious gesture to fan out. To the right, the doors slid open.

Anna answered the door to opportunity knocking and dashed towards the exit. “Griefen Sie!” the leader shouted, leading the rush towards her. He wrapped his arms around her and lifted her into the air, crushing her organs together as he pressed against her bones. His compatriots jabbed her on either side. A scream rose in her throat, but she trapped it with clenched teeth. She refused to give them the satisfaction.

One of the onlookers in the gathering crowd, on the other hand, let their cry of dismay be heard. This seemed to startle her assailants, as they momentarily let up with their shocking torture. In a desperate final bid, Anna brought the back of her head into the leader’s nose. Blood sprayed the back of her head, wetting her hair with a crimson liquid. Her stomach clenched tightly in disgust. But when his grip loosened, she managed to break free with ease. Despite her urge to vomit, she decided that she could live with bloodied hair for now.

She practically tripped over herself on her way out, though that may have been for the best, as she ducked just beneath another attack on either side. “Hilfe!” she cried out through ragged breaths, stumbling through the crowd. The torrent of people filled in behind her as she passed, concealing her among them. As she ran, she risked shooting a quick glance behind her. The trio in black pushed through the onlookers in hot pursuit, but that came to an abrupt halt when the Israeli police stepped in. They peered over the field of heads, scanning for her. She couldn’t tell if they’d seen her or not.

Despite this, Anna didn’t let her haste leave her. She broke through the crowds as quickly as she could, dashing straight down the main street of the Israeli Sector. Her legs carried her a great distance from the station, then came to a stop in a dark alley just off the side. Here, she took a moment to slow her exasperated breathing. She considered taking a minute to sit down and relax. But when she checked the timer, which had wound down all the way to twenty-five minutes, she forced herself to get back on the move.

Paranoia gripped her heart like a cold claw. Her head darted back and forth as she passed down the street. Who was going to attack her next? No one seemed to pay her much attention, aside from an occasional confused or concerned glance. But she never let her guard down.

Finding the next item on her list, the kippah, was just as easy as the others that came before it. Once again, she stuffed it straight into her bag and made resumed her mad dash, turning once again to the train station. Panicked thoughts ran through her head just as quickly as her legs. Who were those men? Why were they attacking her? How did they know her name? Did the Sector’s police arrest them, or did they talk their way out? Would they be waiting for her when she came back? What if there were more of them? She shook her head. It doesn’t matter. she thought, steeling herself. No matter what came her way, she would be ready.

When she climbed up the steps once again, she was unsurprised to see that the crowd hadn’t dispersed from when she had left. Peering through, she could see the three of her attackers were still being grilled by the police. They seemed strangely cooperative, especially considering that their leader, who was doing most of the negotiating, was clutching his still-bleeding nose. The sight of him reminded her of the quickly drying blood in her hair. She suddenly had the urge to break other parts of his body.

Hidden in the crowd, Anna peered up at the train schedule, which was projected against a large blank wall at the center of the station. After scanning the list of departure times, she found the next train to the American Sector was in two minutes, and it would take another two to get arrive at its destination, which wouldn’t happen until after a two-minute wait for boarding. She checked her timer once again; she had nineteen minutes left to burn.

Heat bloomed in her chest. She wanted to scream at the board in her rage. This couldn’t be how it ended! It wouldn’t be! It wasn’t fair! None of the other candidates were attacked! At least, she didn’t think so. She hoped not; if she were the only one, maybe she could use it as an excuse and pass regardless. No, she realized, that won’t work. Making an excuse would be the same as admitting that she wasn’t good enough. The thought made her even more furious.

The familiar screeching of brakes scratched at her left ear. “Departing for the American Sector in two minutes.” The announcer called. Anna slapped herself calm and made for the train doors. Worrying about it now wouldn’t do her any good. It was time to do or die.

Entering the train, Anna was more careful to pick a crowded compartment, which was a far easier task than she had expected. As soon as the doors slid closed, she pushed back to stay as close to the sliding glass as possible. Every second would count, and she refused to waste even one for anything. Those around her backed up a few paces at seeing her face. She couldn’t blame them. If they hadn’t, she’d likely have hit them on her way out.

As soon as the train arrived and the doors were open, Anna shot through like a bolt of lightning. She hurriedly repeated the process she had done four times over now, with greater speed thanks to her no longer needing her translator. When she came to the bakery, a small shop only a few blocks from the station, she was frustrated to find a small line of her other competitors, all just as panicked as her, waiting in line.

Every heaving breath she took while she waited was used to curse. Panic built up more and more in the back of her mind. What if they didn’t have any pies left? What if she didn’t make it back in time? What if she was attacked again? She shook her head yet again. Don’t worry about it, she repeated over and over in her head. Just do what you can. You will pass!

When she came to the front of the line, the baker gave her an exhausted smile. “Congratulations, little lady.” He spoke in an American accent, which she guessed came from the southern part of the country. He turned to the counter behind him and, a minute later, handed her a small, piping hot pie. Golden filling oozed from the sides of the tanned crust, dripping onto the sides of the tin. “This here’s the last one.”

Relief hit her like a truck filled to the brim with freshly sliced onions. Forcing back her joyous, victorious tears, she quickly handed over half of her remaining credits, reverently placed the pastry into her bag, then dashed off. Almost there… She shot the timer a quick glance. Eight minutes turned to seven.

The last drops of her adrenaline brought great speed to her stiff, dying legs. She bobbed and weaved smoothly through the passing people on the streets, like a gentle breeze through a cave. Each breath brought tight, burning agony through her entire chest. The taste of copper filled every corner of her mouth, which was stuffed with cotton. Her heart thumped so heavily in her ears that she feared blood would pour from them. Every part of her body demanded that she stop, begging for her to give them permission to rest. But Anna only cracked the whip harder, forcing them to keep her moving up the steps and into the final train headed towards the Central Sector.

Concerned pedestrians eyed her as she wheezed, clutching her knees and chest. She paid them no mind; instead, she dug through her bag and counted the items. One, two, three, four and, with the still-warm pie sitting beside the long cold baguette: five. The victory was one final mad dash away. Her smile returned to her.

When the train came to a stop, Anna pushed herself out the doors one final time. Her body dragged slowly, refusing to move any faster than a weak limp. She could feel each second ticking away as if they were a torrent of sand falling onto her head. Each grain bit into her skin like a hot knife. “Move, dammit!” she muttered to herself, weakly pounding her legs. “Don’t die in front of the finish line!”

Her pep-talk seemed to do the trick, as she began picking up speed one last time. She could see other applicants dashing in the same direction, some much faster and others much slower than her. A few among them came to a total stop, keeling over to either catch their breath or barf their guts out. She put them out of her mind. The only thought going through her head was to run.

Just as she began her descent down the stairs, a familiar, German voice cried out “There she is!” Rage exploded in her stomach as she shot a quick glance over her shoulder. The three men in black were shoving through the hoard of passengers towards her. If not for the wall of people between them, they’d be running at full speed.

In an instant, all the pain in Anna’s body disappeared. Her body ran as if she hadn’t been at it all day. Everything and everyone between her and her destination vanished into a black void, only becoming visible for a brief moment after she bumped into them. The falling sand fell faster, hotter and harder, turning her skin into boiling, bloody shreds. It pooled at her feet, slowing her down more with each step as her body gave out.

A sudden jolt at her back brought the surroundings back into focus and nearly knocked her off her feet. A firm grip seized both of her shoulders, and two more electric shocks ran through her back. Onlookers from all-around immediately turned to the scene as she let out a blood-curdling scream. They started to fade back into darkness as Anna felt the pain slowly disappear…

In a sheer moment of desperation, Anna wheeled around, snatched one of the stun-guns from her assailant and jabbed the point into his neck. He toppled over instantly, clutching his throat and wheezing for air. In their moment of surprise, Anna drove a powerful boot between the second man’s legs and turned over land another devastating punch to their leader’s face. Both of them cupped their new wounds and moaned as they joined their friend on the roads. She didn’t wait for them to get back up.

Her vision had turned several shades of red by the time she reached the top step and shoved through the front doors. Suzanne Melcroft sat smugly behind the front desk, sorting through another candidate’s bag. “Nicely done, kid.” She took the five items and handed him back the canvas carrier. “Head inside.”

As soon as he was out of the way, Anna practically threw herself onto the desk. The bag felt as heavy as a sack of golden bricks, and it landed on the wood with a suitably loud thump. Melcroft took it from her, gently pulled it open, and started sifting through. In her pocket, Anna could feel her holo-phone shaking. Time was up.

The items were far from pristine at the end of their journey. The half-baguette was cold and flattened, and the pie wasn’t in any better shape. The small prop katana sat comfortably in the crust of the pastry as if it had tried to kill her on her wedding day. Both the sedge hat and kippah had been flattened out to better resemble a coaster than a piece of headwear.

Suzanne looked them over one by one, setting them aside until the bag was empty. When at last it was done, she slid the carrier back over to Anna and smiled. “You’re a lucky gal!” she said. “You made it back just in time!”

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