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Hidden Freedom Part 2
Adler rushed through the gates. His collar still felt hot on his skin. Adler straightened and walked forward at a leisurely pace even though his lungs were screaming. The Pen was no place to show any sign of weakness. Adler came upon the central building and flung the doors open.
“Hey, it’s the Elite, alive yet again! How does he do it?” a young man greeted him a wide grin, his head tilted slightly away from Adler with brown hair sweeping in front of eyes.
Adler smirked at the lanky figure in front of him. The tall and subtly muscular build coupled with the confidence of his stance deceptively masked his biggest weakness. Adler walked forward and clasped the other’s shoulder.
“You made it. Didn’t expect that.”
Adler found himself flat on his back with a knife at his throat.
“It may not be as easy for the rest of us to keep up with you, but you know better than to underestimate me.”
“Trust me, if ever I were allowed a partner during a Game, you’d be the first I’d come to, Nate Sight-Stealer.”
Nate chuckled as he pulled Adler up. “Same here. Things always seem to go unexpectedly when you’re involved. I heard how you won your Game. That Archer seemed ridiculously weak. Surprises me the Owners let him even try.”
“You know how they are. Pay enough and anybody’s allowed to throw their life away in the Games.” Adler said, making his way into the Commons.
“And of course, we don’t get a say whether we want to waste our lives here.” Nate muttered.
“Hey,” Adler said lowering his voice. “Talk like that and you’re as good as dead.”
Nate slowed. “Yeah, I hear you. I’ll take care of the Balances, make sure everything’s even. Grab some grub and get some sleep. You look like you need it.”
Adler smirked. “How would you know how I look?”
“I’m really good at seeing the unseen.” Nate said, focusing his sightless eyes directly on Adler’s green ones.
Adler started, slightly startled, and then barked out a laugh, “Thanks Nate.”
Nate smirked and continued on his way. Adler turned to his quarters and opened the door.
He dropped to the floor and kicked his leg out behind him. His foot came into contact with something solid and a gasp could be heard. Adler lunged at the shadowed figure and threw him over his shoulder further into his room. He yanked two flailing arms back so hard the person immediately became still.
“It’s me stupid! Seva! You’re breaking my arms!” the small body shuddered.
Adler relaxed his grip a little, but kept his hold. “I knew it was you. You’ve got to learn how to defend yourself properly or you’ll die in your next Game for sure.”
Adler rearranged Seva’s arms and locked them behind his back. “Now try to throw me off.”
Seva struggled and twisted, but Adler didn’t budge. In a desperate attempt, Seva twisted his hands to grip Adler’s wrists and heaved his body up, twisted his leg and pushed Adler far enough away to get his body out from under Adler.
“Not bad, remember that your small body and flexibility are your strong points. Forget that for one second and you’re dead.” Adler released him and clapped him on the back.
“Hey,” Seva grabbed Adler’s arm. “You got injured! Let me get something to clean that up. I’ll be right back.”
Adler smiled after him. Seva was much too kind for this life. Adler chided himself for caring so much about him. In the Pen, you couldn’t expect to live more than four or five Games. Many never saw three months pass in this place. Seva had survived his first Game with his second looming closer. Adler had found himself protecting the boy and teaching him to fight more efficiently considering his size and lack of strength.
Adler sighed as he tossed himself onto his bed, shifting to compensate for the characteristic lumps of the thin mattress. His thoughts drifted to the way the Handlers were conducting check-ups more often than usual. He didn’t like it one bit. Something big was happening that would affect everyone in the Pen, whoever was still alive to face it.
In two weeks time, all the Game slots were slated to be empty. Some of the newcomers rejoiced, as if it were a holiday, a break from the stress. For the more experienced ones, it spelled something big and unwelcome. Never had the games stopped so completely in all the time that Adler had been imprisoned here, just a little over a year. Adler narrowed his eyes as he remembered the cloaked men at the edge of the track…
It hadn’t been chilly enough to condone their attire and they spoke to no one, focusing only on the athletes as the races took place. Adler took his dirt bike to the starting line, sinking into himself to find the clam and focus he needed. The barrier dropped and he was ripping up dirt, keeping his head low and his body tight. He was on the second to last lap when it happened. Adler was keeping close to the leaders, biding his time to make the final pass when the two bikes in front of him collided. Too close to do a thing, Adler ran headlong into the rear tire of the overturned bike before him. In that moment, time slowed as his rear tire lifted off the ground. Adler revved the bike and twisted the front wheel to land miraculously clear of the two bikers still struggling to pick themselves up off the ground. Adler rushed over to the closest one.
“Hey, can you hear me? Max, are you all right?” Adler placed a hand on Max’s shoulder.
“Unngh, I think so. Help Greg. I think I hit him with my bike when we went down.” Max placed a hand on his head.
Adler glanced around and saw the unmoving body of his friend, half-covered by his bike. He lifted the bike carefully away from the boy and stepped back to let the on-site paramedics through…
Adler moved forward in time, shifting through his memories to when the two strangers approached him.
“Is there something I can help you with?” Adler asked, turning slowly to see the two cloaked men come around the corner.
“Not really. We just wanted you to know we were impressed with your skills on the track. It was quite the miracle you didn’t run over the other competitors.” The two gave a slight nod and disappeared as quickly as they had come…
Then had come the day when his whole world changed.
Adler breathed in the salty breeze, relishing in the quiet of predawn nature. It was his routine to get away from the stresses of life and just be. The waves crashing onto the beach provided a steady tempo for the pace Adler set his run, bare feet sinking into the sand, lifting up and down, breathing in and out. It was moments like these that Adler looked forward to everyday. He made his way back to his car, the sun just noticeable over the horizon. He stopped short, looking puzzled at his car. There was a letter on the hood of his car. Adler picked it up. It was quite extravagant with flowing letters and an elaborate seal on the back. Adler leaned against his car and began to loosen the seal when he heard several footsteps. He looked up startled to see four men standing a few feet to his right. Adler immediately began to feel uneasy; their silent stares made the atmosphere oppressive.
“Something I can help you with?” Adler asked although he knew somehow they were here for him.
One of them, the leader perhaps, stepped forward. “We are the Retrievers. In that letter you will find that you have been chosen to be a participant in the Games,” The man’s words were difficult to understand, his voice heavy with some unfamiliar accent, but his meaning was certainly clear. “We will explain further when we arrive. Come with us quietly and this will go smoothly. If not…” the man trailed off and the others stepped forward.
Adler felt his blood run cold. He didn’t have many options open to him. He couldn’t start his car before they reached him; his phone was in his pocket, but the call would never connect in time. Adler settled with the most basic option his mind and body could agree on. Adler set off at a dead run down the beach. He could already hear them closing in. Adler spared a glance over his shoulder and smirked. The man closest to him had put a distance between himself and his comrades. Adler stopped and lashed his leg behind him, connecting with the man’s stomach. The man let out a gasp and collapsed. Adler stood his ground and faced the two coming toward him. The apparent leader had not moved from his position. He continued to stare without emotion at the scene before him. Adler refocused on the two in front of him, dodging a punch and throwing one of his own. The other man grunted and fell to one knee, effectively tripping his companion.
“Enough of this,” the leader was right in front of him.
Adler stared in disbelief at the speed at which the leader moved. The leader raised his arm and suddenly Adler was on the ground, his head ringing and his vision blurring. He struggled to get back up. Two of them grabbed hold of him and restrained him.
“I told you to come quietly.” The leader reached into his pocket to pull out a gun. Adler froze and then struggled in an effort to get away.
The leader aimed and fired directly at Adler’s chest. Adler felt it connect, his head jerking backward. The sun lit up his face and filled his vision, then nothing…
Adler was shaken out of his reverie by Seva yanking the door open.
“Adler!” Seva was breathless and a look of unease was etched on his face.
Adler sat up. “What is it? What’s going on?”
Seva looked down. “It’s the Owners, they’ve gone crazy! They are separating the Targets into groups for an Ultimate Game. The Handlers are announcing teams in ten minutes.”
Adler narrowed his eyes as he ran out of his room with Seva right on his tail. Not good. Not good at all.