If I could change one thing about myself, it would be my birthday. December 13th seems like an innocent enough date, but when you live in The Pod, it’s practically a death sentence. It means I will be the last to turn fifteen this year and the others have eleven months to claim The Dwelling before me--unless I stop them.
Heat radiates off the pavement as I leave my parents dwelling and head into the street. Sabin jogs to catch up with me. I can see Dante closing the door of the dwelling across from ours. It is midnight on September 20th.
“Nick turns fifteen today,” Sabin says to me.
I caress the hilt of my sword. “I know.” Of course I know. We’ve known each other’s birthdays since we could read a calendar.
“Will you kill him, Serena?” he asks.
“Of course I will!” I say, appalled. “Haven’t I killed all of them? Scarlet, Penny, Markus, Raven…Do I have to say their names? One for every month of the year so far.”
“But, you don’t have to kill Nick. He may choose you as his dwelling-mate and then you’d have a place to live.”
“Not likely. Nick knows I’ve had his name on my kill list since January.” I grin at Sabin. “He could choose you,” I say. “I think Nick might find it a welcome relief to not have the possibility of a wife and child.”
Sabin sticks his tongue out and makes a gagging noise.
“Anyway, I can’t take the chance. The dwelling will be mine, which means I’ll have to kill you all.” I jab my sword toward his face just to make the point.
“Just remember, it’s illegal to kill me on any day but my fifteenth birthday. You’ll have to wait until November.” I notice he doesn’t mention it will be legal for him to kill me that day too, or that Nick could kill either of us today.
“November then,” I say, but inside I cringe. I know Sabin better than any of them. We’ve killed the first eight side by side, knowing that our chances for survival depended on keeping The Dwelling tenant free. Will I be able to kill him when the time comes? I’m not sure.
We pass the oxygen generators on our way to Nick’s dwelling and I look skyward toward the dome that shields us from Earth’s foul atmosphere. It’s the reason for The Dwelling race. Environmental control is essential for survival in The Pod. Limited resources mean limited dwellings.
“Come out, come out wherever you are,” Sabin chants in the direction of Nick’s window.
We climb the stairs towards his parent’s door. Dante nods in our direction, moving around the back of the dwelling, sword drawn.
“Happy Birthday Nickolas! Time to race. The Dwelling is just waiting for you,” I taunt.
A voice rings out from behind us. “You guys are so damned predictable,” Nick yells from the roof of the food dispenser. “Do you think after killing with you for nine months, I would wait in my own house?” He laughs. I eyeball his location in comparison to ours. The only rule is that we have to start the same distance from the dwelling. Nick made a smart choice. We’re even but his height is to his advantage.
He takes a step toward The Dwelling and the race begins.
Nick takes off, jumping from rooftop to rooftop. I follow but resheathing my sword slows me down. I’m faster than he is but he’s able to put some space between us while I react. Once I hit my stride, I grab the bow from my back. I am closer than Sabin and have the best chance of taking Nick out.
At a full out run I release my arrow. Nick dives to the left and it skims his right shoulder. There’s blood but it’s not enough to take him down. I curse because we’re close, a few hundred yards from The Dwelling. Dante has climbed to the roof and is firing at Nick with his slingshot. He’s lost too much ground climbing the stairs and his stones drop far from their target. Sabin is shooting arrows as well, but the height of the buildings make a clear shot nearly impossible.
The door to The Dwelling is on the second floor. Sabin and I race up as Nick races down. I release arrow after arrow but none do any more than bloody his ankles. The only shots I can get are through the gaps between the stairs.
Until we reach the landing.
Nick dives for the doorknob of The Dwelling and I release my arrow aimed at his heart. The door falls open and he hurls his body inside. I narrowly miss my target. My arrow clips his flank, pinning his shirt to the door.
It’s too late. He’s inside. Nick rips his shirt from my arrow, raises his arms toward the dome and releases a howl of victory.
Sabin falls to his knees, weeping as the Pod Enforcers come. Dante tries to run but they have him before he can make it to the stairs. I make them force me to my knees. I feel cold steel on my neck but no matter. I am prepared to die. I’ve been prepared since I found out about The Dwelling race and my inauspicious birthday.
Nick is still in the doorway. Will he enjoy watching my fate?
“I choose Serena as my dwelling-mate, “ he says and the look on his face is positively gloating. I glance toward Sabin but dare not say his name as the Enforcers usher me into The Dwelling.
Nick closes the door behind me. I drop to the floor, squeeze my eyes shut and place my hands over my ears.
I try not to think about the death outside.