How did Sarah get there? She couldn’t exactly remember. At least she wore her poncho, her main barrier against the steady rain. Good, she thought. The sunlight must be waiting for me. The shadow sure isn’t.
The dead-end alley shouldn’t have been there, yet it was. See, the machines that tended the Growth frowned upon empty, unproductive areas, and so they often wedged structures inside alleys for various purposes. Also, Sarah shouldn’t have been there, yet she was. Her daydreaming led her off the wider path of the street and into the darker one of the alley. Normally, there wouldn’t be a problem — Sarah was known to drift off occasionally and lose focus. The problem was that a fellow operative spotted an Enforcement patrol in her area, and that was just terrible. Sarah needed to get away. She moved into the shadows, to think.
Sarah shook her head furiously, then blinked twice. Her current field of vision was captured in a snapshot. She saved the image for Avaleon; the older woman always loved her shots of the city. And usually, Sarah liked the city as well. Sarah was always amazed at how the Growth was so fluid — it looked empty of life in the day, and full of activity at night. So it was that sunset, that time when windows were brightening and the sky was darkening, always amazed her the most.
Except then. Then, pinned in an alley with Enforcement approaching.
They didn’t know she was there… yet. It was all routine for them. But Sarah knew, and that was enough to send her paranoia overboard and make her start looking for a way out. After all, no one would come to save her that time. Her daydreaming had her trapped in the alley. It was up to her to find a way out. Focus, she reminded herself. Focus.
The rain was still falling. On top of her current circumstances, she really wasn’t supposed to be out in the rain, thanks to the city-wide mandate that recently passed “for the benefit of health as we fix the smog.” As if smog was a light-switched to be turned on and off. As if they could honestly make good of the world. As if—
The footsteps grew louder, snapping Sarah awake again. They were quiet, but obvious, splashing heavily on the saturated mixture of glass and asphalt. Sarah took a quick glance around the corner of the building, noting the distance and speed of the duo. She had a fair bit of time. Her heart ticked a steady rhythm, if accelerated.
From her night-pack, she pulled a thin rod, which somewhat resembled a sparkler. And from her boot, a sound-flash grenade. She pushed foam into her ear in anticipation. She listened. Dead silence. Sarah counted silently, waited until she could no longer hear footsteps, and—
Nothing. She was stuck. Her boot had sunk into the mud of the unpaven alley. Sarah sighed. Remembered her finger in the grenade’s ring. Pulled her finger from the metal pin, and tried to calm down and think of a course of action. Pushed the rod back into her pack, thankful she wouldn’t need it. She observed her surroundings, since she had again partially forgotten where she was. When she was.
Her heart thudded in her chest.
It was late; only three hours until midnight, the clock at the upper-right of her vision reminded her. She was standing in the middle of an alley, somewhat illuminated by the neon candy-coating her surroundings. There was a trash bin hulking behind her; maybe she could hide inside. But the noise would draw more attention to her than standing still. Sarah sighed. The one time she opted not to wear her urban camouflage, she needed it.
In a flash of insight, she glanced above. The fire escape. She could rebound from the door across the alley and reach it. But that might make more noise than the trash bin… on the other hand, she would be safer in the air than on the ground. The Enforcement agents she saw surely didn’t possess her agility. Maybe it would work. Maybe. It was worth a shot, she told herself. She tested the door. It would hold. It would have to.
Water splashed by the edge of the building — the agents were close. It was then or never. As her boot finally worked itself free of the mud, she jumped onto the steel handle of the door. From there, she flowed up and backwards through a perfect arc, twisting simultaneously, until her fingers wrapped around the lower rung of the stairway. It clanged loudly, and she heard a shout of surprise from an agent; she must have spooked them. Good. Quickly, she scaled the stairs, which wobbled threateningly under her, and by the time the Enforcement turned into the alley, she was four stories in the air. They never thought to look up. Instead, they glanced in the trash bin.
Too close. Her heartbeat quickened.
Sarah sighed again, rested for a moment. Below her were the agents, and above her were another thirty stories. But across… she caught her breath. Across, the building was abandoned. The window, and others, had long been smashed open, as if waiting for her.
She weighed her choices again. Either wait for the Enforcement to glance up and see the swaying escape, or keep climbing until she reached the roof, or jump across to the open window. She picked the third, and opted to take her chances with what lie within.
The rain still fell. Sarah stepped carefully over the rail of wet metal, trying to avoid a slip or noise. Tentatively, she waited for a crack of lightning to illuminate her path. She concentrated on each drop that passed her vision, waiting for one to turn from dusky to clear white. Waiting for the visual confirmation that her choice was achievable. Waiting for that one bright glimpse of the opposing wall of metal and brick and glass that would guarantee her safety and waiting even more for the—
Light flashed. She jumped. ‘Twas reflex.
Moments from the floor, she had a change of heart. For all she knew, the floor inside was rotting and would fall apart under her. But no, she landed and rolled, and the floor creaked once — no collapse. Good. As she eased onto her feet, she remembered to update Ava. Sarah took a snapshot of the open window, and quietly spoke a quick message into the air. It was picked up by the microphone in her jaw, vibrations converted to written words, and the messages were paired with her images and sent to Ava. Done. Good.
Now, where exactly was she? Sarah spun until her internal compass pointed north, then faced the shadows that filled her vision. She turned on a flash light to get her bearings. And then, she wished she hadn’t.