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The Jag Races
The Jag paced back and forth in front of my cell, alert and aware of everything around it, just like the animal from which it had stolen the name. Of course, the alias was not the official term. They were the Jail Agents of Security, or JAgS. No one was completely sure what they really were. I had heard that they started out as humans, but were then genetically modified into superhuman freaks. We, the prisoners, simply called them jags, because of the acronym, but also because of the tattoo of a jaguar imprinted on their necks. I guess they had noticed the acronym, as well.
That day was the day. The day of the jags’ defeat, the day of our freedom. Also, although we didn’t know it yet, that was the day that would forever come to be known as the Day of the Jag Races.
I struggled to keep my countenance impassive. My toes in the metal boots they forced upon me tingled with impatience and my hands clutched the bars of the cell as if it were a lifeline, my overgrown nails digging into my palm. I was well aware of the pain, but as if it were from a distance, as if I were not completely in my body.
The lonely cells were compressed together against the wall, one directly beside another. Most of the convicts had been confined in the president’s personal underground dungeon for so long that they had forgotten their real names and what they had done to irk their leader in the first place. They had never had the right to a trial, so some of them not only couldn’t remember, but didn’t even know the reason for their incarceration. I was commonly referred to as prisoner 00013, or Thirteen, for short.
A complicated series of knocking reached my ear, coming from my left. The signal. I squeezed my face between the bars until my head was almost completely out.
“Hey, you!” The Jag prowled toward me until he was just out of my reach, leaning against the door of my neighbor’s cage. His paw flew towards my cheek, knocking me back into my stone chamber. My jaw was growing red from the strike, but I pushed my face back between the bars and, gathering all my courage, defiantly spit into his scowl. Looking down, I realized the tips of his fingers were already turning to a sleek, water-like substance because of his anger. Circumspectly removing his dark sunglasses, he growled: “You little--”
Suddenly, my previously-mentioned homebody grabbed hold of the guard’s morphing hand and, fingers slipping through the solidifying liquid, plunged it into the lock of his cell door. The stub of the jag’s hand hardened in the padlock, and its captor twisted it, unbolting his door. A sharp crack assured us of the wrists’ fracturing, and the ward, extremely sensitive to pain, collapsed into a heap on the floor.
The hall was silent for a moment, then 00012 creaked the door open. As planned, the prisoner thrust the disheveled lump into his former cage, stole the large gun from its holster, and ran through the door.
Stage One was complete.
Let me get something straight. I’m not a runner. 00025 is, and even 00022 can stumble around a bit. Neither of them, however, can work the control room. That was what got me into this jail in the first place. Apparently, the president doesn’t like it when someone hacks into his personal files.
I was huffing and puffing like the big, bad wolf, and my feet tripped over the cold stones. My mind was racing alongside my boots clanking loudly on the floor. Luckily, no jags were in sight.
Finally, the cavity came into view. Peeking through the window, I sighed in relief in seeing only one jag at the control desk. I glanced nervously at the gun in my hands. I had never used a gun, before. Nevertheless, I knew all of the theory behind it and how it worked. I heard that many years ago, guns were used to shoot things out. Bullets. Now, they only sucked things in. Needless to say, they were more deadly than ever before.
Taking a deep breath and channeling all the superheroes I could think of, I banged the door open with my boot. The jag turned around and started yelling something, but before the words could even leave his mouth, I pulled the trigger. A green light escaped from the barrel and landed on his chest, and before the jag could roar in pain, he was nothing but an assortment of garments on the floor, his hands melting into a hot, fleshy puddle.
The gun weighed down in my hands, heavier than it was before. The containment chamber unbalanced it. I had just sucked a soul from a body, my first of many to come.
I approached the desk warily, frightened of what I might find, of not understanding anything.
A big, red button glared up at me, reading “Emergency--only to be used in extreme circumstances--releases prisoners 00002-00037”. Wow, maybe 00025 could have worked the controls. Estimating that it probably was an extreme circumstance, I placed my hand over the button, my fingers trembling, and finally dropped them on the alarm.
Stage Two was clear.
Sirens wailed, crying out as if in pain, yet a smile took over my whole face. The doors unlocked, and the captives stepped out of their cramped cells for the first time in years. We could almost taste the freedom, but we were not out yet.
“Nice job, Thirteen,” 00002 took the lead. I bowed my head modestly. “Next step. We’re going to One’s cell.”
We all shivered at 00001’s code name. He was the first of us all. No one had ever seen him before. Residing in a high security area crawling with jags, he was considered to be the most dangerous man alive, and we were headed straight for him.
At that moment, 00012 ran in, carrying the gun awkwardly in his arms.
“Don’t worry,” he panted, “I’m alright, everything’s good. Great, even--”
“Be quiet!” 00002 hushed him. “We’re going to 00001’s cell...”
Jags are so full of themselves. I expected to meet a guard at every corner, dark sunglasses glinting at me, but the halls were empty. I supposed they were so sure we could never escape, even when the sirens were abusing everyone’s ears. I had no doubt, however, that we would meet plenty once we reached the high security cell.
Why, you may ask, are we meeting up with the most dangerous criminal in the world? About whom we know nothing about? Not a name, not a face, nothing but a number? Because we needed him. The jail was a labyrinth, a maze. None of us knew the way out, but 00002 assured us that he did. I just hoped our leader was right.
“There he is,” 00002 breathed, either to himself or to us, I wasn’t sure. He was peeking around a corner.
“How many jags?” One of the convicts inquired.
“Many,” he replied. “But not too many. Twelve, you ready?” 00012 nodded. “Then go.”
I could tell 00012 was nervous. He was a nervous person by nature, and there he was, about to go affront a jamboree of jaguars.
“Good luck,” I whispered to him as he passed by me.
He glimpsed around the corner, and seemed to cringe at the spectacle before him. Then, he ran out of sight.
There was yelling, jostling, shoving as we followed the leader. Once a jag was down we grabbed for his gun and started shooting the others. I managed to get my hands on one of the weapons, but my aim was abominable. Thankfully, I did manage to not suck out any of my comrades’ souls. It was a scary device, really, leaving someone empty like that. Didn’t one need a soul to access the afterlife?
After a while, the battle was over. We had the element of surprise and sheer number as advantages, so the jags ended up laying, lifeless, crumpled on the floor. Some of our own may have been lying there, as well, but none of us had the heart to look. Our number did seem to have diminished, but it was too late to change any of that, now. Besides, if it were up to me, I would have chosen death over spending another night in that cage in a heartbeat.
We advanced cautiously to the cell. It was dark, and had we not known better, it would have seemed completely empty.
“Hello?” 00002 called, his voice bouncing all over the walls. “One?”
A pair of eyes appeared, soft eyes, not the cold eyes of a murderer we had been expecting.
“Who is there?” A mouth had appeared in the gray beard surrounding it. The voice was resonant, but pleasant.
“We’re escaping. From the prison, that is, but we need your help.”
A pair of hands grabbed the bars as the mouth pleaded: “Let me out.”
We grabbed the silvery hand of a nearby jaguar and stuffed it into the keyhole. The door groaned open and a figure appeared. An old man stretched out, sighing. I heard him murmur: “It’s nice to be out.”
We formed a half-circle around him. “Do you know the way out?” 00002 asked.
“I might. I am old, my memory has faded, but I believe I remember.” Without another word, he broke our enclosure and marched out into the hallway. 00012 caught up with him, and we dropped our guns, prepared to follow him wherever he might lead us.
That’s when the agents caught up with us.
The Jag Races had begun.
We ran through the serpentine passages, dodging each other as we raced. The tapping of the jags’ feet followed us, no matter how hard we breathed. 00001 was in front, leading the way. He was surprisingly quick for an old man. He seemed to know exactly where he was going, whereas to me, all the walls looked the same. The adrenaline rushed through us, making our legs go faster and our hearts beat just as quickly. Mine felt as if it were stampeding through my whole body.
Then, we reached a dead end.
“What is this?” 00002 asked, breathing heavily. “A secret passageway? A tunnel?” The footsteps were nearing.
“What? I was sure it was this way...” 00001 mumbled.
“One? Where are we?”
“Wait, let me think.”
“We don’t have time!”
Abruptly, the jags reached the runaways.
They blocked our only escape, standing in a straight line. The barrels of the guns pointed to our group. That was then that 00001’s mind decided to recognize his mistake. “Oh, I get it! I was supposed to turn right, not left...” He then noticed the jags.
“Twelve!” 00002 whispered. “Shoot!”
“I’m full. There’s not more room.”
We stood there, paralyzed in silence, unable to move. An idea came to my mind.
“Release the souls.”
“Release all the spirits. It’ll confuse them...” 00012 nodded once, aimed the gun, and pulled some hidden trigger. The world then turned to confusion.
The spirits invaded the air, howling in everyone’s ears. They charged towards the jags, who ran away in fear. 00001, grasping the opportunity, bolted through the remaining jags, yelling out “Follow me!” to anyone who would listen.
Of course, we all listened and hustled through the narrow passage. The jags were still after us. We flew through corridors and up steps. Through our race through the prison, I could hear 00001 muttering: “Almost... Almost there...” I think everyone heard, but it gave us hope. At least one of us knew what we were doing.
I don’t know how long we ran. It could’ve been minutes, it could’ve been hours, and to me, it could’ve been centuries. But we did reach the end. After a long bout of ascending stairs, I suddenly saw sunlight. I saw actual sunlight, not that artificial light used underground, for the first time in years. I could smell something other than the mold that grew in the damp walls, and could hear other things than the faint echoes of footsteps.
We were outside, the light blinding us. We blinked, trying to take in all of the sights, sounds and smells. Underground, we were in the jags’ territory, but their eyes were much too sensitive to light. Here, above ground, we were free, free from the felines’ torments, their jeers, their abuse.
Finally, entirely, free.