Jenni Clarke - Author
Cherika should have been a runner for the past seven months. Her moment of cowardice gained her more time in the safety of her home, but the cost was too high.
Sobs wake Cherika from her nightmare. She peels off her sweaty sheets and tiptoes from her room. Tapping first, she presses the pad on her brother’s door, and it slides open.
Sebant is a shaking lump under his sheets.
‘Hey, munchkin.’ Cherika snuggles next to him, wrapping her arms around his small body.
His sobs subside and he sniffs before turning to face her. ‘Don’t go.’
‘You know I have to.’
‘No.’ His reddened eyes flash with anger. ‘You’ll be eaten, just like Jacante.’
Cherika stiffens. ‘It’s my fault. She shouldn’t have been out there.’
‘She was faster than you, and she wasn’t fast enough.’
‘No, munchkin.’ She smooths his damp hair from his face. ‘I am faster than Jac. I’d have made it back to the fence. ‘
Sebant frowns. ‘But…’
Tears prickle Cherika’s eyes, she fights them. She doesn’t deserve the luxury of crying. ‘I told myself it was because Jac was so determined to be a runner, she wanted to prove to her brothers that a girl is as good as a boy.’ She sees Jac’s face full of elation and surprise. ‘I convinced myself I was being kind. And now she is dead.’ Her voice falls to a whisper. ‘It’s my fault. I killed my best friend.’ Her shoulders shake with the effort to be strong.
Sebant sits up. ‘No, you didn’t. Jacante was faster, she jumped the fence before you. It was close, but she won.’ His eyes plead with Cherika, but she shakes her head.
‘You know that’s not true. You’re my timer. You saw the split-second delay before I made the leap.’
Sebant’s eyes close, and he winces.
‘I was a coward, Seb. I was scared. I let my best friend win, and now she is dead.’ Cherika pulls her brother back into her arms. ‘I’m no longer scared. I want to go.’
‘You want to leave me?’
Her heart contracts. ‘No. I love you. I want to protect my family, like I should have protected my friend.’
Sebant shakes his head. ‘I don’t want you to be eaten.’
She smiles. ‘I won’t be eaten. I’m faster than those genetically modified monsters. You know I am. Faster than their fastest. While I’m a runner they will not even breach the outer fence.’
‘I wish I could run with you.’ Sebant thumped his twisted right leg. ‘But I’m useless.’
Cherika grabs his fist. ‘No, you’re not. You’ve something more important to do than running.’
His eyes widen, and he gasps. ‘There’s nothing more important than running.’
‘Yes, there is.’ She taps his head. ‘You’ve a fantastic brain. Use it, study hard, and find a way for us to grow crops without needing the monsters’ scat. Then we can be rid of them for ever.’ Her eyes shine. ‘Imagine a Mars where plants can grow anywhere, where we can live where we want. No more fences.’
Sebant’s eyes reflect her dreams. ‘You promise you’ll come back?’
‘I promise.’ She hugs him tight. ‘Be brave, munchkin.’
Fiction - Mars Runner
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