Calia climbed into the hollowed out stump of a fallen roof tree and made an effort to quiet her labored breathing. Her lungs felt sunburned from the sprint and her mouth was cottony, flecked with bitter congealing saliva. She wiped at the beads of sweat on her brow, not noticing the dark streaks she left with her blood caked hands.
She’d never killed anyone before; she’d had no desire to. She’d had no desire to kill this man, either, but he’d turned it into an uncomplicated equation. His life against the many. Not to speak of Calia’s own life.
She listened for approaching footfalls and the hum of drones overhead, but heard only the soft sounds of scattered fat raindrops in the canopy above, and the drip drop of water beads as they slid from bent leaves into the soft carpet of soil and ground brush. The overcast sky was still oppressively bright. She shut her eyes tight.
Of course, she’d heard the rumors, same as everyone else. Stories passed around in primary school like strep throat, and later dismissed—as all children’s things are dismissed—in her early teenage years. Urban legends about the true purpose of the government mandated annuals: abstract reasoning exams, emotional stress tests, physical endurance, sensory deprivation, memorization skills, hyperdimensional spatial ability, logical reasoning, pattern identification… The list went on and on. The subject of the annuals was never revealed in advance, and it never repeated. Calia concluded it was just benchmarking. Census data.
Then they came to take her away. They said she’d passed the annuals—that she was the first in the Jonquil System to do so. She’d been selected—conscripted—to participate in the shadowy HCDN’s agent candidate program. Effective immediately.
She was exceptional enough to pass all of their tests, so it wasn’t hard for Calia to figure out that the program’s goal was to weaponize her. Snuff out her humanity so she could squeeze far away star systems into compliance. Compliance with what, she didn’t know, or particularly care. She just knew it would be wrong.
She waited there in that rotting roof tree stump for three days, willing herself awake, ignoring the hunger and the joint stiffness and the unsustainable adrenaline drip, knowing they would still be looking for her, until finally she allowed herself to slip into unconsciousness.
She awoke lightyears away, without an inkling that she’d been moved or that any time had passed at all. Because she was exceptional indeed, but they were better. They would make a weapon out of her yet.