Road Runner, by Bianca Brutaldo
Chapter 27
Only the guilty run from heroes

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They have a term for the work Rodney has me doing: it’s called a Rodney Favor. Nicole, who was raised on base so basically knows everyone, tells me that’s what the other Year Twos call it. In fact, it’s become an inside joke/insult: Rodney Favors are tasks you could just as easily do yourself.

For instance, ask your roommate to get you a glass of muscle juice because you don’t feel like getting up? That’s a Rodney Favor. Request a professor explain a point already outlined in the class syllabus? Rodney Favor. Text a friend’s comms bracelet to ask about the weather instead of walking to the nearest window? Rodney. Favor.

Of course, no one knows about the Rodney Favor he’s asked of me. I’m pretty sure having a student grade her own and her peers’ classwork eclipses the usual Rodney Favors in both laziness and unethicalness. But after careful consideration, I’m fine with it.

Yesterday, we got our essays back – the ones I graded. I saw Jancy approach Professor Munger after class, so I lingered.

“Professor Munger, I have an issue with this grade. I’ve never written a failing paper before in my life.”

Professor Munger took the paper from Jancy’s agitated hand and began reading aloud: “Fidel Castro is one of the most notorious and evil Mexicans in modern history…”

She stopped and handed back the paper. “Castro was Cuban, not Mexican.”

“But Cuba is part –”

“Not even close. You earned the grade you got and if you ever argue your grade again, I will immediately fail you for this entire class.”

The rush of power I felt, hearing those words, was more intoxicating than adrenaline. Rodney may be making me do his work for him, but it gives me that power. It also gives me insider information on my classmates, all of whom I’m competing against to stay here another year. And as Professor Munger says, understanding the enemy is critical.

“Ready to run, Legs?” Rodney says, meeting me at our normal spot. Another example of his laziness: he never calls me Rio, or even Cadet Gonzales, only “Legs,” either because he thinks it’s ironic, or endearing, or because he can’t be bothered to remember my name. Whatever the reason, I hate it.


We slip through the gates and begin our bi-weekly “run.” I was hoping to escape Elysian Fields but these runs feel as stifling as if we were still on base. Every run is the same: a two-mile loop through shabby neighborhoods and a decrepit market area long since looted, run at a walking pace. I could run it twice as fast. I could run twice as far. But I consider these runs an exercise in patience as much as anything, and we run so slow that I have plenty of time to observe my surroundings. Each loop, I notice something new: like how the foam fingers that litter the streets here say “we’re no. 1!” in Chinese characters. After the war ended, it seems we sold our hubris to China.

Today, I notice the weeds that grow in the cracks in the sidewalks. It’s purslane, an edible plant native to India. It grows in our garden. Mrs. Anand puts it on fancy salads.

I notice how all movement dies on the streets as we pass, bodies so still they look like corpses, but if I glance back I can see broken car doors shoved open and fragile children with skinny limbs and doorknob joints darting into alleys to play. I notice how these people look more like me than the cadets I train with – not just because many of them are brown, but because many of them are missing pieces of themselves. A hand, an ear, both feet, a healthy amount of flesh. Gangs of ageless children lounge on porches, watching us. It’s impossible to tell if they’re 9 or 20. Starvation masks puberty well.

It reminds me again of my first few days on base, when for the first time in my life I was made acutely aware of how different I looked: how brown, how skinny, how small, how broken.

On each run, my eyes still scan for roosters but I see none. Given my company, I suppose it’s a blessing.

Sometimes, I just stare at Rodney’s sweaty back as he toddles along and wonder what it would be like to race one of the road runners again.

Now that I know what I know about Peacekeepers, it casts the night I lost my leg in a new light. I can’t remember if the soldiers wore belts with mace and batons and tasers and guns and extra rubber bullets like Rodney, but they probably did. I remember the horrified look on Peasant’s face when I got on that motorcycle. She knew what they were capable of even if I did not. Thinking about what they could’ve done to us gives me chills. Maybe they would have, had I not run. Maybe I saved both of us. Or maybe they would have showed us the same humanity we’re learning in The Art of Restrainful Restraint – like how to scream, “Stop or I’ll shoot!” to diffuse a tense situation.

“Stop or I’ll shoot!” Rodney shouts directly in front of me.

My head snaps up. I nearly run into him – he’s dropped to one knee and pulled out his taser. Over his head, I see two skinny teenagers. They’re crouched down, cradling something to their stomachs. My scream is instinctive.

“Run!” I yell.

They jump up but it’s too late. I hear the stifled retort of the taser, watch as electrified prongs dig into a skinny chest. Her shriek is cut off. She drops to the ground, legs and arms twisted, twitching, paralyzed, while the other makes an agonizing decision: stay or run?

She runs.

Rodney casually walks up, 50,000 volts of electric current still coursing through the girl, her jaw locked tight, eyes wide in pain and confusion. He releases the trigger and her body relaxes. I can hear her breath heaving. She’s gasping for air. He reaches down and picks up a crumpled piece of paper – it appears to be trash. Tinder to start a fire.

He reaches down and unhooks the metal prongs embedded in her skin. I move to help her up but he grabs my wrist. Tightly.

“What the hell?” he asks.

I was going to ask him the same thing. The girl gets to her hands and knees, her eyes still trained on Rodney’s taser. She crawls away in the direction of her friend.

“Why did you pull your taser?” I ask. I don’t relax until she’s out of sight.

“Because on patrol yesterday we saw two teenage gutter-tricks who looked exactly like those boys steal a stack of ‘scrips and a few flashlights.”

“Those were girls.”

His hands are shaking with rage or adrenaline or both. “So what? You don’t think ‘scrips can’t pass hands?”

I try to visualize the girls again. They were definitely holding something but at our distance it would’ve been impossible to tell they were ‘scrips pads, wouldn’t it? I reach down and pick up a wad of trash, insignificant except for the neat rows of dots that mark each one. A feeling of deja vu hits me before Rodney’s voice chases it away.

“It’s not your job to question me,” he says, slapping the trash from my hands. “I’m the one with the training, not you. I saw two kids acting suspiciously and followed protocol. You did not.”

But so what if they were ‘scrips pads – it’s not like they could do harm with those. ‘Scrips are meant to get people immediate medical attention. If they hand them out – hell, even if they sell them – all they’re ultimately doing is helping others.

“I’m just saying, why treat kids as criminals when we don’t have to?” I ask. “Why presume they’re doing something wrong?”

“What don’t you understand? They. Were. Acting. Suspicious.” He turns his back to me. “Forget this, I’m not going to argue with you. We’re returning to the base. The run is over.”

Innocent or guilty, I still don’t see how tasing kids helps maintain peace and order.

When we arrive back at the gate, Rodney breaks the silence. “I can’t say I’m surprised, Legs, but I am disappointed in you.”

What I want to say is, “I’m disappointed in you on every run,” but what I say instead is this: “Why don’t you call me Rio or Cadet Gonzales? Why Legs?”

“I figured you’d like it better,” he says, shrugging.

“How so?”

He looks to the sky as if to verify that yes, I am determined to piss on his parade today. “Because it’s not so… it’s less… it doesn’t make it sound like you’re the enemy.”

Out there, my skin color and stump make me fit in while in here, my name makes me the enemy.