We live — and die — by our Runners.
They say it wasn’t always this way. They say all of us used to be free to Run, but I’ve never known a life like that. I was born after. After the sky went dark. After the Diamonds came through the clouds down to earth.
And ruined us all.
Meema says it was our fault. They were so beautiful — the Diamonds — that we didn’t ask the right questions. Not until it was already over.
Papi always tells her to hush it up. He thinks if we call them by name, out loud, too often, then they will find us. I think he’s right.
I wanted to be one of the Runners for our enclave. I begged and begged, but I was born too late. They’d already given my brother Beau the honor, and no family was allowed to have two Runners. No enclave had more than five. Couldn’t afford it.
“Don’t wish it,” Beau would say. “It’s not like you think. Don’t wish you were a Runner.”
Then I’d tell him that it was easy for him to say.
I’d try to quiz him: Did the Process hurt? What was it like? Did he know what they did to him to make him invisible to the Diamonds?
Did he ever get scared?
He never answered. Except sometimes, late at night when I was almost asleep, I’d hear him whisper, “Yes, Izza. I’m scared.”
One day, Meema got sick. Bad-sick, but not a death-sick. Doc said there was a medicine that could fix her right up, but we were out. We needed a Runner to go up onto the streets, to cross the city and trade with the Northeast River Enclave. It was a dangerous Run, one that took a path right through Diamond-heavy districts. Beau hated it; he told me it smelled like blood and corpses, that he saw more bodies in the allies, worked to death in the Diamond factories, than any other Run.
But Beau was the only Runner in the enclave that day. The others were already out.
Papi said no. I heard him yelling at the Chief that it couldn’t be Beau, he was too old, the Process was wearing off and he’d fully outgrow it soon.
But Meema was sick. And it was spreading.
So Beau put on a pack, hugged Papi, hugged me, and then he went for a Run.
I waited by the tunnel door every day for seven days.
Beau never came home.
One night, Papi took me topside. We sat under a scout shanty where the Diamonds wouldn’t see us and stared northeast. He held me and cried. I’d never seen him cry before.
“Izza,” he said. “Do you know why a family can’t contribute more than one Runner to the enclave?”
I looked up at him. “Because it’s not fair to the others. To hog all the honor.”
“No, Izza.” There was starlight in Papi’s eyes. “Because it’s too much to ask them to lose more than one child.”