<h2 class="start2">HER</h2>\n\n<<if visited() is 1>>You have known her since you were both three. You met at day school on your very first day. You were crying because your parents left.\n\nShe was not. She was holding a bright green stuffed frog by one webbed hand. \n\nShe offered to let you hold it, which you did, sitting next to her at the coloring table while she filled in a blue sky, even after you tried to correct her.\n\nBy the time you both moved up to the next age bracket, she hadn't fixed the color of the sky. She just stopped coloring pages that had [[sky in them|previous()]].<<elseif visited() is 2>>You weren't particularly close after the first few years of day school. When you started on lower academy work, you somehow lost her. You were still aware of her, as another presence in the school, drifting between the walls like the rest of you.\n\nWhen you were thirteen and noticed her again, it was because she was suspended. That was ten years ago.\n\nYou don't know what she was suspended for.\n\nYou don't really care, [[now|previous()]].<<elseif visited() is 3>>She always wore the uniform to school, but there was something about the way she wore it that made her look out of uniform. \n\nWhen you were sixteen you passed her on your way to practice. She was standing on the sidewalk outside of building 15, where your lockers were. The last class had been dismissed all of five minutes before, and she was already out of uniform, her sweater dangling from her bag, skirt switched out for tight black trousers.\n\nShe was reading a book and didn't look up when you passed. You thought it was strange, that she had a book, when she never had the right one [[in class|previous()]].<<elseif visited() is 4>>You and her, you had the same birthday. June sixteenth. The funny thing is that even with all the time when you weren't really friends, didn't really talk, you both still made sure to see each other.\n\nSometimes you said nothing more to each other than "Happy birthday," splitting your annual cupcake so you each got two flavors.\n\nSometimes, even though you hadn't talked since the year before, you wandered the weird corners of the city together and looked for passages you hadn't seen before, and went home late.\n\nYou never heard from her on your twenty-second birthday, and didn't know how to find her.\n\nYou didn't see her again until [[your next birthday|previous()]].<<elseif visited() is 5>>Even though she must have broken into your bedroom, you didn't scream or even get that scared when she showed up again. She was lying on your bed with her boots on, hands shoved in the pockets of her jacket. There was a cake on your desk, an entire cake.\n\n"Happy birthday," she said.\n\nYou stayed up all night and finished the cake together. It wasn't very big. It was the most sweets you'd had all year, and on top of the cupcake that had come with your dinner that day, [[you weren't going to sleep that night anyway|previous()]].<<elseif visited() is 6>>At this point, you don't think that it's fate or anything that brought you and her together. It's not that conscious. You were always circling each other, since you were both three, and caught around each other. Silence and distance and disappearing didn't change that. You and her, you were linked. She drew you in with her blue skies and stars and white teeth and books, and you drew her in, too, somehow. She never told you why she kept coming back to you. Never acknowledged that she chose you above the other kids you had grown up with. She never talked about your twenty-second birthday or where she was, but [[she talked about the stars|previous()]].<<elseif>>It isn't love.\n\n[[It's the adventure promised by her smile|previous()]].<<endif>>
<h2 class="start2">YOUR JOB</h2>\n\nWell, yes, strictly speaking you had catalogued and re-filed papers in folders. But what had you really been doing? Anything at all?\n\nThe papers had been neatly filed according to a detailed system already.\n\nThe system you catalogued them in had no record of each of them as you worked.\n\nBut another system did.\n\nAnother system had them all already, every piece of your work already done in InfoTrack Q. But you didn't know that when you started, assigned to work in FileTrailasaur.\n\n"It has a separate tagging system," you were told as you left on your last day, when you casually asked about InfoTrack Q. She had prompted you to wonder a few nights before, filing her nails and sitting on the ledge of your window. \n\nYou didn't know it was your last day when you left, not until you [[got home|eleven]]. \n\nShe was waiting for you again.
That truck is what you're running for.\n\nIt has been only a few minutes, running and sirens and a sun on fire. You're starting to sweat, now.\n\nYou put on a burst of speed, because you're close enough to see inside the truck through the dust, and you can see [[her|nine]] as well as [[the others|fifteen]] inside.
<h2 class="start2">LAST NIGHT</h2>\n\nWhen you found yourself standing just inside the door of building 23, you were unsurprised that the code and the fingerprinted glove had worked. The pill would be working too, and you walked through the building, under the security sensors, trusting that you were invisible. \n\nThe key is secure inside a pouch that's strapped to your back, under your shirt. Probably soaked with sweat by now.\n\nBuilding 23 of Maker Blue, was eerily dim after hours, none of the lights coming on for an invisible trespasser. You walked by the light of the new phone. You didn't have the layout memorized, but the storage shelves were well-organized and labeled with barcodes to help the bots that sorted, stored, and retrieved everything in the vast storage buildings of Maker Blue.\n\nYou scanned barcodes with your new phone until you made your way to another dark room.\n\nThere were boxes and boxes of key circuits. That was all you had to get. The key circuit for ship 2623-4b, built six months ago and specially prepared by Big and Little. It had to be [[that key|eighteen]].
The city shrinks behind you, a dome like a blister on the surface of the earth. It resisted when it spat you out at last, the seal of the tunnel bursting in the shallow shadow of a dead tree. You left it behind without a second glance. The metal bent, the tight seal around the edges already corroding. \n\nThe city was fine. Livable. Pleasant, even, if you didn't think too much, which you didn't, until you did. Even now, thinking like that twists into your brain and half-confuses you in a pleasant way.\n\nIt was because of [[her|twelve]] that you started to think again. Five years out of school and you had already let yourself sink down past the crown of your head into the dull swamp of the city, of everything the city expected, the schools, your parents, the job you had taken. \n\nYour job... What had you even [[done there|seven]]?\n\n<<if visited("two","three","four","five")>>Enough. Enough. You are racing against everything, seeking [[that truck|ten]]. Which you can see, now. \n\nCan you [[see her|nine]]?<<else>>Anyway, you're running now, so hard that you think your heart might burst before you finish. But why? Are you [[competing|five]]? Are you [[fleeing|three]]? Are you [[chasing|four]]? <<endif>>
You run like there are flames bursting from your back, which there might as well be. The sun blares overhead almost painfully. You hadn't taken that into account. There was nothing you could have done -- to get protective gear would have been impossible, and would have slowed you down. \n\nIt might start to sizzle your skin if you don't get there soon. The dust is growing thicker as you run, so you're getting close. You've almost caught up.\n\n<<if visited("two","three","four","five")>>Enough. Enough. You are racing against everything, seeking [[that beat-down truck|ten]] that's on its way to a ship. Which you can see, now, that truck. \n\nCan you [[see her|nine]]?<<else>>But that's not all you're doing, of course, chasing that beat-down truck on its way to a ship. So what is it? Why else are you running? Are you [[escaping|two]]? Are you [[fleeing|three]]? Are you [[competing|five]]?<<endif>>
<h1 class="start">DIGITAL WITNESSES</h1>\n\nThey watch you as you run, as fast as you possibly can, your lungs bursting. Strangely, you aren't sweating. Your feet pound the dusty road. Everyone is [[watching|six]].\n\nIf they weren't watching, there wouldn't be much of a point to the running.\n\nAre you [[escaping|two]]? Are you [[fleeing|three]]? Are you [[chasing|four]]? Are you [[competing|five]]?
<h2 class="start2">LAST NIGHT</h2>\n\nThe boxes were labeled perfectly with barcodes. Year 2623 had five boxes already. \n\nYou lifted the lid to box four and pawed through it. Despite your nerves, your hands were completely dry, and your breathing was steady. The pill had more control over your body's reactions than you did, right now.\n\nYou found the key circuit, stuck it in your pouch, and left. You had six hours to get out of the city and meet up with the others. They couldn't leave without you, couldn't [[steal the ship|fourteen]] without the key. \n\nThe tunnels were dank but completely ignored by all except the automated security systems, and you were a ghost as far as those were concerned.\n\nAs you traversed the narrow tunnels, guided by a map she put on your phone, you kept thinking about the [[stars she described to you|nineteen]].\n\nThen you had to run, when you burst out of the tunnel and saw not just the burning sunlight, but the colored light of the motorcycles at the edge of the city.\n\nStill running.\n\nYou reach your hands out as you run, and you can almost touch her fingertips. Isis holds the back of her jacket as she nearly falls out of the truck, but then--\n\n--your hands grab, and you are pulled off your feet and tumble into the [[back of the truck|twenty]].
<h2 class="start2">AT HOME</h2>\n\n"You kept breaking the lock," you said. [[She|twelve]] smiled in a way that you weren't used to seeing, genuine, bright, and feral. \n\n"It's going to happen," she said. For three months, since around your birthday, she had been coming by your apartment, getting into your room on the twenty-third floor. You're not sure how. \n\n"What is?"\n\n"The rest of them don't deserve to be saved. They don't want to be saved. But you, you have to come," she said. You look at the door. "Your father doesn't want to be saved. The only thing you do is make his dinner every night."\n\nThe last time you exchanged more than a few words with your dad was when you had been at your job for a year and you wanted to know if you should say anything about it to your supervisor. You didn't. You bought yourself an extra sweet during lunch from a street vendor who swore he didn't report the extra nutritional count.\n\n"He can push the buttons himself," she said. She took your hands in hers. Her hands were rougher than you expected, every time. You spent a long time looking into her face, while she smiled at you. Her boots were leaving black shadows on your blanket.\n\n"How's work, then?" she asked, and it's like the words were enough to tip your brain completely upside-down. You squeezed her hands tight, but she didn't wince.\n\n<<if visited("two","three","four","five")>><<if visited("nineteen")>>She had already told you about the plan by then. She had already told you what you could [[hope for|nineteen]].<<else>>She had already told you all about the plan, [[the truck|ten]], [[the rocket|fourteen]], [[the others|fifteen]]. And [[your role|sixteen]].<<endif>><<elseif>>She had already told you about the plan by then, and now you run, and run. Are you [[competing|five]]? Are you [[escaping|two]]? Are you [[chasing|four]]? <<endif>>
Lying on the floor of the truck between several pairs of feet, you gasp for breath and try not to look like you're actually dying. You hear the back doors close. The engine revs.\n\nShe drops to the floor next to you, and without any hesitation or shame, strips off your shirt and unstraps the pouch. \n\n"I knew you could do it," she says, holding up the key circuit. Big grabs it from her hand and looks it over, then sighs with relief.\n\nYou breathe hard. Pushing up from the floor, you try to pull your shirt back on. Little is politely looking at the wall of the truck, while Big and Isis go through the contents of a stiff bag.\n\nShe watches you, sitting by your side.\n\n"We won't be the last," she says with a wild grin. You know what she means.\n\nAcross the side of the truck, large enough to be seen on the better screens, is a message. You could see the edges of the letters as you chased. \n\nIt says, "THE CITY LIES."\n\nGamma keeps driving. Balancing yourself against the driver's seat, you stand and look through the windshield. You can see the rocketship city [[up ahead|twenty one]].
On some screens, you look very small, compared to the landscape around you. It's an old highway, dusty and unused these days. \n\nSome people change the channel. [[She|twelve]] isn't watching, of course. Your father is, without knowing it's you, because you're small on his screen, and he isn't really paying attention. He never paid attention to whatever was on the screen in front of him. That's okay. You're not running for him.\n\nWhy are you running? Are you [[competing|five]]? Are you [[escaping|two]]? Are you [[fleeing|three]]? Are you [[chasing|four]]?
The unfortunate part is no matter how much you told yourself that no one would care about a handful of people, that no one in the city would even notice, that you would all get away just fine, it wasn't true. They're watching.\n\nAlthough.\n\nIt would have been easier had no one noticed, had no one started to chase you -- protective bubbles wrapped around motorcycles, curbing their speed; sirens that would beat against your eardrums once they caught up to you, that were designed to make you want to to stop and clap your hands over your pained ears; dizzying lights already blaring in the far distance...\n\nAlthough! \n\nNow you had [[their attention|eight]].\n\n<<if visited("two","three","four","five")>>Enough. Enough. You are racing against everything, seeking [[that truck|ten]]. Which you can see, now. \n\nCan you [[see her|nine]]?<<else>>Yeah. You had their attention, which was not the most wanted side-effect to your running, and certainly not your main motivation. So what is it? Are you [[competing|five]]? Are you [[escaping|two]]? Are you [[chasing|four]]? <<endif>>
You never said goodbye to your dad.\n\nYou never got to say goodbye to your mom. But she did disappear, as suddenly as you have. For a few weeks, you didn't know that she wasn't coming back, -- until you started to get special treatment from the teachers in the lower academy.\n\nWith the arms of a strange wild woman around you, the rumble of a rocketship coming to life, you wonder if this is the first rocket ever stolen, or just the first one //you// stole.\n\nMaybe it runs in the family.\n\n<div class="creditbox"><p class="creditline">Notes: By <a href="http://stories.amcorbin.com">Andrea Corbin</a>, a.k.a. rosencrantz. Prompted by <a href="http://twinery.org/forum/index.php/topic,1474.0.html">a post on Twinery.org</a>. Made in Twine using only 23 passages, including stylesheet. Written in about 18 hours while listening to the new St. Vincent album on repeat. Thanks, <a href="http://ilovestvincent.com/">Annie Clark.</a></p><p class="creditline">//Version 01, 2014-02-23//</p></div>
<h2 class="start2">AT HOME</h2>\n\nYour father was sitting in his chair, having gotten home before you as he usually did. Your mother was not in the apartment. \n\n"Why can't you start our dinners before I get home?" you asked. The apparent pointlessness of your vocation had put you in a crabby mood. \n\n"You're an adult," your father said, not looking away from his screen or moving from his chair. The screen's glow made him look slightly sickly, though his last medical had shown that the vitamin pills, carefully regulated meals, and exercise bed were all working as they should.\n\nYour own exercise bed tended to keep you up at night, and in the last few weeks you had started to sleep on the floor, and exercise on your own. Especially after her visits, when you were slightly worked up and uninterested in sleep.\n\nIt took a while for you to remember all the exercises from track, when exercise beds were banned from competing athletes and you had to make do with antiquated methods.\n\nYou made your father's dinner and your own, and took yours to your room to eat. As expected, she was waiting on your bed.\n\n<<if visited("two","three","four","five")>>"You stopped locking your window," [[she said|thirteen]]. As she spoke, you didn't yet know it was going to be your last night at home.<<else>>"You stopped locking your window," [[she said|thirteen]]. As she spoke, you didn't yet know it was going to be your last night at home.\n\nNow you run, and run, and run. Are you [[fleeing|three]]? Are you [[competing|five]]? Are you [[escaping|two]]? Are you [[chasing|four]]? <<endif>>
Outside of the city, in a wasteland between dry riverbeds, is another city. One where the skyscrapers are made of the noses of rocketships, pointing toward the dark gray sky. Where no one lives, but new skyscrapers appear every few months to sit and collect dust, until the maintenance bots circle back around to clean the grit from every surface. \n\nMost people don't think about it, even though a quarter of the city has some hand in making the rockets. They make the shells, go home, eat, sleep, wake up and do it again. Make the chips for the navigation system, go home, eat, sleep, wake up and do it again.\n\nThe shadow city of unused rocketships is for an emergency that the city proper doesn't talk about.\n\nWell, this is an emergency. \n\nThe pill that she gave you has worn off completely, and you're soaked in sweat. It worked perfectly, though, lasting long enough to get you out of the city with the [[key|sixteen]].\n
Generally, you courted no one's attention. In upper academy, you caught the attention only of coaches and judges when competing. You were unexceptional in school.\n\nNow, indeed, you had their attention. They are broadcasting this on all channels, the fools who ran from the city. \n\nThey chase you, but she had promised that their intention wasn't to catch you, or any of them. Only a show, and then perhaps a speech back in the city, in all the cities.\n\nThe sirens blare, growing louder.\n\nYour feet pound and the dust gets thicker in the air around you. Outside the city, everything is so dry this time of year. The grasses rustle like paper.\n\n<<if visited("two","three","four","five")>>[[She|twelve]] gave you a mask, at least, for what it helps.\n\nYou're still running, but now you can see [[that truck|ten]].\n\nCan you [[see her|nine]]?<<else>>[[She|twelve]] gave you a mask, at least, for what it helps.\n\nBut you're still running.\n\nAre you [[competing|five]]? Are you [[escaping|two]]? Are you [[chasing|four]]? <<endif>>
<h2 class="start2">SHE SAID</h2>\n\n"There are stories that talk about looking up at the stars, these things in the sky like holes poked through a black cloth, lights shining through."\n\nYou knew those stories. They were fanciful, escapist mythology.\n\n"They're not! They're true. They're so old that they remember. There are stars, and there are cities out there, too."\n\n[[She|twelve]] was sitting on the ledge of your window, feet danging outside, and you leaned next to her. The dome of the city was dark; it was always dark when she was here, because she only came at night. But there were no stars on the dome, only dark.\n\n"No one bothered to remember, except the stories. Almost no one bothered to remember that people left the cities before the domes were finished, before the rest of the world went to hell. There are people who kept the records, protected them through the electrical storms in the mid-2300s, the ones that wiped half the databases. There are people who kept a separate library. Of everything."\n\nThere was a cool wind blowing through the open window, not cold, but pleasingly cool. A cool that made you want to go inside and stay inside until the dawn came. She wore a thick jacket with the collar turned up, and you shivered. \n\n"If we're building rockets," she said, having already shown you evidence of how all the pieces of ships came together and went out into a distant storage field, "what are they for? If we're building ships, don't they have a destination?"\n\nThere was something compelling about the idea, the thought of stars, and it nibbled at the edges of your mind while you went to work each day. Mythical stars sounded better than what you had [[at your job|seven]].\n\nThen that night came, and you learned that you were chosen to [[get the key|sixteen]].
<h2 class="start2">LAST NIGHT</h2>\n\nNever in your life had you imagined doing something like this. \n\nEven when you were in school, before you were sucked under the city's gray surface (and then saved from drowning in it), you thought at best that you might have an interesting job that let you travel, just once, to one of the other cities on earth.\n\nShe told you there [[were stars beyond the gray clouds|nineteen]].\n\nThat night, after that last day of work, she gave you a packet of pills, and told you about them. The one that had a silvery sheen to it would mask you completely when you broke into building 23 of Maker Blue, Inc.\n\nThat night, she had you memorize a code, and take a glove. \n\nShe gave you a new phone, pulling the activation tab before she handed it off.\n\n"I'll meet you on the other side," [[she|twelve]] said. She packed a bag with clothes from your room. "[[Don't bring anything|seventeen]]."
You know them by fake names.\n\n''Gamma'', who drives, who you can't actually see yet. He isn't driving so fast that you won't catch the truck. You're very close, you think. Gamma is there because of Isis, like you will be there because of her.\n\n''Isis'', who crouches just behind her, holding her jacket and keeping her inside the truck, so if you didn't already like Isis, you'd like her now. She's the one who made the plan and found all the pieces. The one who listened to unlicensed transmissions and realized there was more to be seen than the cities down here, more to be done than nothing at all. \n\n''Big'' and ''Little'', who sit far from the open doors of the truck. You can see them more clearly with every step, the way Big, even though Little's fully grown now, still throws an arm across him for protection. Big supervised the machinery in the rocket factory for ten years, quietly picking up how it worked and instinctively knowing that she shouldn't let anyone know that she was learning at all.\n\nLittle finished school a year ago, and hasn't yet had a job. Big registered him as deceased so that no one would assign him a job. Big planned for three years. For the last year he's been working on something else.\n\nYou are all selected, for one reason or another, to [[steal the rocket|fourteen]].
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They gave up the chase by the time you reach the perimeter of the rocketship city. Gamma crashes through the flimsy gate and drives through the rows of rockets like the spaces aren't terrifyingly close, and skids to a stop next to a sleek black thing.\n\nYou climb inside just after Gamma, and she comes in behind you. Isis turns on a screen in the rocket as Big and Little head to the control seats. \n\nThe screen shows the motorcycles approaching the launch pad, but when you looked back before hopping inside the ship, you saw the motorcycles speeding back to the city.\n\nWhen the view switches, the rocket is clear, and so is the fence around the launch site. It lingers for a moment, as though the camera operators were illiterate and had to be ordered to change views, cut the scene, go back to the stock footage of the motorcycles circling.\n\nEmbedded in the fence are the words "THE CITY LIES" again, and the words "LIVE FOR STARS" which doesn't make perfect sense to you, but as you read the words, you think, //yes, that would have made me curious, if I were still in the city, watching all of this.//\n\n[[She|twelve]] laughs and throws her arms around you.\n\nYou do wonder, though, what's [[waiting for you out there|twenty two]].
As the truck races down the road, she has her arm wrapped around a bar bolted inside, the back door flung open. \n\nIt shouldn't have been a chase, shouldn't have been this close, but the way she's grinning, lit up, her free hand held out to you, you wonder if she didn't want it this way.\n\nThrough the wide-open back doors to the truck, you can see [[the others|fifteen]] gathered.
When you were young, you competed in athletics. Thinking about it now, pounding down the highway, you wonder why they bothered continuing athletics in school, considering it wasn't exactly training any of you for adulthood. \n\nBut they did it, and you ran. \n\nUnder the dome of the track, you ran in circles, blindly. In the monstrous gymnasium with its cavernous roof, you bolted from start to finish. \n\nNow you run even harder. The burn in your lungs is exhilarating, knowing why you run.\n\nYou're not trying to beat them now, not like that.\n\n<<if visited("two","three","four","five")>>Enough. Enough. You are racing against everything, seeking [[that truck|ten]]. Which you can see, now. \n\nCan you [[see her|nine]]?<<else>>So what is it? Are you [[escaping|two]]? Are you [[fleeing|three]]? Are you [[chasing|four]]?<<endif>>