A siren screamed loudly across Block Number 7. It meant that the sun had set. People across the block rushed to close the little shops they worked in, ready to run back home. The streets were soon deserted. Neon boards outside the small shops, in buildings as high as fifty floors, threw a diffused light around them. Still, the streets below were dark as coal. The sky glowed slightly in matte red, as it did all day and night. Even the street lights died an inch beyond the road. Red, dusty atmosphere left only a slight glimmer in a desolate sky.
Taiyo, a young boy of sixteen, held the walls for support as he walked on the empty streets. He was heaving, craving for a lungful of oxygen. His body was covered in red dust; his denim jacket and jeans, his hair, every part of his skin…. All was layered in red dust. Taiyo stopped for a moment, taking a long breath, and began to walk again. He had to reach somewhere, before he died of the poisonous air he was breathing heavily in.
A big car racing came out of nowhere on the road and screeched to a stop five meters from . He turned to look right. The road was hardly visible with all the dust and so little light, but he managed to figure out what was going on. Four men came out with a woman in their grasp. The woman was struggling to escape. She tried to shake herself away and run, but the men had clasped her mouth and arms. For a second, Taiyo decided to continue his journey and not care about anything else. The dust was overwhelmingly heavy and dry. But his feet couldn’t let him step forward. There was someone who needed his help! He had to pull away from the support of his wall and gather his remaining strength. So, Taiyo plunged into the glowing atmosphere of the road and jumped on one of the guys with all the force he could manage to put. One of them fell head first on the road.
‘Hey!!’ a large man with a mask on his face shouted at the boy and swung his heavy arm at him. Taiyo dodged and went straight for the mask. It flew off his face. the large man panicked and began to run away into the car. Two other men pulled out some kind of electric rods. Roaring in their masks they went straight for the boy. Even in his weak and almost blind state, Taiyo managed to dodge them.
‘Get the boy you fat asses!’ the fourth man shouted. The woman in her grasp took the moment of distraction in her favour, and threw the man on the floor with one tricky stunt. The other two men, hearing the groan of their companion, got more aggressive and struck Taiyo with their weapon. Taiyo had no air in his lungs to scream, so he fell speechlessly on the dirty road, gasping harder for breath and losing consciousness. He could barely see how the woman took the men one by one, how a nerdy guy came to her with extra masks, or how they hauled him into a vehicle. Then he was in a comma. Everything was black and silent, as if he was in vacuum of a black hole…
Time had lapsed in the darkness. It was all black.
Something was cold and breathable in his nose. Taiyo could feel his lungs inflate as he inhaled- for the first time in his life!
Is this… air? Oxygen? Or am I dead?
A strange feeling of dizziness filled his brain, as if his gray matter had become thicker.
‘Boy… open your eyes if you are awake… have some water.’ A woman’s voice fell on his ears, firm but concerned. Taiyo blinked. What he saw next was shocking… there was white light everywhere. His eyes began to pain and water.
‘Oh! My bad… you are not used to all these lights, living in that dark street, right?’ The woman switched off a few lights and turned back to him, ‘better?’
‘Yes…’ yet again, Taiyo was surprised to hear his voice come out so clearly. There was no dust in his throat or nose. He did not sound husky! With his head spinning, he opened his eyes wider and sat up. Muscles in his stomach, where the man had poked him hard and electrocuted him, was tearing in pain. A stab might have been less painful, he thought.
‘What you did back there was brave… and stupid. I am a soldier and I was on a get-caught-to-catch-them mission there. Anyways I captured those Dumpers…’ the woman said as he handed him a glass of water. Taiyo stared into the glass. It was clear, pure water. No dust, no colour, and just transparent like it should be. He drank all of it in a go.
‘Thank you… for this. I was very thirsty.’ He said, looking around.
‘Its fine, boy, drink up! What is your name? You belong here?’
‘I’m Taiyo… I came from the Northern state. And you are?’
‘Call me Ivy… agent Ivy. I am actually not permitted to share any info in my head.’ Ivy smiled. Her large brown eyes hid a thousand secrets. ‘So what brings you on empty streets without a mask, Taiyo? You are not allowed to leave your area after the siren rings.’
‘I have no area…’ he said and went quite, staring somewhere in the white sheet on him.
‘I see. . . You’re orphan too like the most of us… My parents died, working in the E-9 nuclear plant. the radioactive dust got them. . . that was twenty years ago …’
‘Thats… I’m sorry…’
‘me too… What happened to yours…? Taiyo…?’
‘Well, my mom and little sister were killed when our area was destroyed for a power unit. Dad went to fight a case against those people in the capital city, but never returned… it’s been four years.’ He went silent, clutching the sheets tightly.
Agent ivy stared at him; there was awe in her eyes and sadness too.
‘The world is going crazy… all that nuclear and nanotech units… but Taiyo, you came so far into the Eastern state here. Where do you plan to go? I mean… you can’t be searching for your dad now?’
‘Nope… I have no reason to believe he is alive. I’ve heard how Dumpers kill any rebels. So I am fulfilling his last wish.’ He looked up at Agent Ivy with a slight smile, ‘He wanted me to see the Sun as it really looks in the morning. He wanted me to know if it really is like the Bloodstone or not, and he wanted me to live a good life in the place where there is no poison. My father wished fo me to live long.’
‘Oh… and so he named you Taiyo. That means sun! But, sweetie,’ Agent Ivy smirked, ‘Do you even know where that poison-free area is? Very few people have seen it…’
‘My grandfather did. He told my father its up somewhere in the Himalayas. I will search the whole mountain range if I have to!’ his eyes sparked.
‘Ooh the spirit you have! I swear if you were my age, I would date you…’ Agent Ivy sparked a wide smile, making him blush a little, ‘Anyway you look real handsome with all that dirt gone…’
Taiyo touched his face. There was no dirt on him. His hair felt clean and soft!
‘Who treated me? I’m sure I was dying of poisoning…’
‘Ivy! There’s a small fighter plane on our chase!’ A tall, lean man came rushing into the small room, ‘I put the RV on autopilot but… oh! The boy is finally awake!’
‘Here’s Agent Matrix… interesting name right? He cleaned your lungs, stomach, face, hair, pretty much all of you; I guess your hands and clothes too. Queer…’
‘Oh…’ Taiyo noticed that his clothes were clean and neat, ‘Thanks matrix! I owe you a ton…’
‘No problem pal, and I’m not queer, Ivy.’ he raised a bro,’ Now, we’ve got a jet on our head!’
The vehicle vibrated as a missile from the jet hit the road just beside it.
‘Matrix you drive! I will handle the guns.’ Agevy stood up. She pulled a mask hanging from the RV ceiling and put it on her face. Taiyo stood up too, ignoring his stomach wound, put on a mask and followed her.
‘You stay down, this is not your type of work.’ She said, pulled out a staircase from the roof, and climbed up. There was a heavy machine gun with long magazines of bullets on the top. Ivy put a shield up in front of her, and her killing machine was ready to fire. The jet was wriggling behind her and firing missiles, one by one. Ivy was having a hard time aiming at it. Matrix had to drive zigzag to avoid the shots. The jet flyer was a superb pilot; he avoided all of her shots. Then, after failing to shoot the missiles at them, the pilot switched to the gun too. Bullets rained on the shield protecting Ivy. She kept on firing.
‘Crap!’ Ivy got hit on her arm by a bullet. She fell back on the stairs.
‘Hey! You must get back down!’ Taiyo shouted from his mask.
‘He would kill us if I don’t get him! I can, I just need some time-
‘Get away!’ Taiyo pushed back her and got behind the shield.
‘Taiyo! You jerk!’ Ivy raged, half angry and half worried for the young boy, ‘I thought you wanted to live!!’
‘And I will!’ he shouted back at her, firmly.
In a few seconds, her frown and anger melted away. Taiyo wasn’t carelessly shooting at the jet and wasting bullets. He was aiming like a pro and firing at the right time.
Once I get to know his pattern of flying, I can aim! He took a deep, refreshing breath like never before, and held it as he aimed. The moment the jet and the gun’s point coincided, he fired. The jet fell into the valley beside the road they drove on.
‘Wow… would you like to join the team, Taiyo? We need shooters like you!’ Agent Ivy was staggered by his ability.
‘Not really… I have a mountain range to search…’ he held her good arm and slowly led her down. She now lay where Taiyo had been lying. Matrix put the RV on auto mode again and dressed her wound.
‘Good the bullet didn’t enter. It’s was radioactive. I have to remove some blood and some cells here-’
‘Just do it M, don’t speak…’ she scowled at him and grumbled. Taiyo had to muffle his laughter, watching Matrix’s sad puppy face.
‘Well, this calls for some good food!’ Ivy announced after sometime, and threw a sharp look at Matrix. He turned on his heels quietly and went to get dinner.
After five hours of more driving and talking, Matrix stopped the RV somewhere in a hilly place.
‘From here we have to turn south,’ said Matrix, ‘You have to travel northwards to reach Himalayas.’ He had a sad smile on him. Matrix had made a new friend after years!
‘Yeah… our ways part here. I really wish I could meet you guys again, but your identities, numbers, e-mails are all a secret! Seems I have no choice…’ he shook hands with Matrix and Ivy, and bid them goodbye. He jumped down the RV and began to walk.
‘Oh all right, wait Taiyo…’ Ivy said aloud and sighed, ‘I can’t let you go like this.’ She threw a small cell-phone like remote at him.
‘What’s this?’ he asked, ‘Looks like…what!!’
‘Yeah yeah… that’s my car remote… take it will you?’ she rolled her eyes, thinking why she was doing it, ‘I don’t use it much anyways…’
Surprised, Taiyo pressed a red key on the remote screen, and a car came out from the back of RV. It turned and stopped right beside Taiyo. A small car, but it had enough space for him to spread the seat and sleep on.
‘I like shiny black cars…’ Taiyo nodded appreciating the beautiful design of it.
‘It’s a one day drive to North-east from here… the poison free zone…’ Agent Ivy said, making him jerk his head up, ‘The car has enough battery for two days. The location is on its screen inside, you can follow it.’
‘You’ve been there, haven’t you?’ he asked her. Something inside his heart felt warm and eased. It was as if all his troubles were over.
‘We grew there…’ Matrix spoke, ‘She’s my childhood friend. You’d ask why we left that place at all…’
‘Yeah! Why did you!’ Taiyo was flustered with the news.
‘Because we want the whole world to be green like it was before all these Techno units took over…’ Ivy said gravely, ‘The ones we fought yesterday were men of some industrialists. They were Dumpers, or people who kill anyone who rebels against the units they put. Some big companies seek only profit, their own profit. The red dust all around us was never supposed to be, it’s all because of these people… some of us are on a mission to end it.’
Taiyo was speechless for some time. He never thought there might be people holding better thoughts than earning money.
‘Well, now I want to join you guys…’ He began to walk back to them.
‘No, you go on, you’re not eighteen!’ Ivy grinned at him brightly, ‘even with those skills you have, a kid can’t join our team.’
‘So I can come back in two years…’ Taiyo smiled.
‘Yeah, that-’ Matrix pointed at the car, ‘Has Ivy’s contact via secure line. Keep mailing us.’
‘Oh, and send pictures of the sun and the mountains, will you? The thing has a cam too.’
‘Yeah, anything you want!’ Taiyo had never felt so strongly for people before, but these two were exceptions. They were not merely humans with flowing blood, but with a beating heart too.
‘Then off you go! We must get going to.’
‘Sure Ivy… will keep in touch!’
‘One more thing Taiyo, the sun is not like Bloodstone.’
‘Then what it is like?’ he always wanted to know that, and now his curiosity burnt hotter.
‘It’s more beautiful than any gem you’d ever see. I can’t explain… you take care of yourself.’ Ivy said gently, almost like a big sister.
‘I… I would… so long!’ Taiyo saw the RV disappear far into south, his eyes burning in tears. It was not the dust this time. He blinked them away and quickly went inside the car.
‘Location…’ He said and a screen appeared. There it was in a little red dot on the map of Himalayan range… The Free Zone, Code 1. He touched the dot and the screen said ‘location locked’. The engine started and he took off north-east.