Challenge course 2:00 AM

The draft below banged my body mercilessly against the cliff face and my fingers straining to hold on to the slippery edge. The tips were white with effort, shaking and all the while threatening to give way and send me tumbling a hundred feet to the rocks below. As my feet scrambled for purchase on the side, my arms trembled as they heaved my legs and torso over the edge, cutting my leggings open and creating an oozing gash in my thigh that spewed and spurted blood as red as the flag in which this country was represented.  I pause for a moment and wet my face in a stream nearby and drank greedily, not caring if it had been tampered by the course manager. I ripped the sleeve off my standard issue grey long sleeve and gritted my teeth as I wrapped it snuggly against my leg and ran in to the woods.

Three miles remain. Only  three. You can do this. I thought. I pushed forward and ran faster still trees blurring and whipping my face with brutal rhythm. Colors disappeared and became muted, a dull shade that resembled grey and brown mixed in a blender. The pain was unbearable, but somehow I managed. Time became imeasurable and I wasn't sure of anything, but that I was going to be overtaken if I didn't push harder. Push. Faster, and faster until you approach the edge of death and then greet it with open arms. That's the only way it can't keep you. I sprinted, unaware of how far left and not caring. I had to do this.

My eyes could make out a red line, that marked the end of this deranged challenge. I sprinted towards it, with a speed I did not know I posessed and As I crossed, I felt relief. Relief which smothered the determination that kept my body from destroying itself flooded and my limbs gave way and my eyes which had not felt sleep for 48 hours saw only black and I gratefully drifted into unconciousness, not knowing, or caring whether I returned from its black embrace.

Conference Room: 4:00 AM 

A circle of Fitness and Intelligence faculty were seated around a black polished table, fidgeting. This time of year was highly anticipated and most certainly not welcomed. Three high ranking agents stood, their attire down right intimidating and fierce. Black armor plates covered their muscles and vital organs and their faces were cold and ruthless.They viewed the screens with disgust, as if they were not pleased to be here either. The Quatai woman's black eyes rested on a single screen of a tall blonde human female. The name on the top right of the screen read ASTER. As she crossed the finish, her knees gave way and she fell to the ground in a heap of bloody limbs. She pointed a taloned finger at the screen and all the screens were filled with images and clips from her  challenge. The screens showed a girl leap chasms with utter confidence,  swim raging rivers, and dodge bullets, all with the utmost strength and speed, only tiring at the end but she still pushed past the pain. 

The course was designed to be nearly impossible, challenges were life threatening and perilous.  The human female Aster had accomplished this feat with extraordinary ease and resilience. The agent sharp-toothed black smile was eery as she determined her choice. The Quatai's tallons scraped the finish of the bloack marble table at which the faculty sat in dead silence. The sound screeched like metal upon metal and several advisors winced. She gazed at the people seated with contempt and lifted her alien lips in a snarl. "We will take this one." The Quatai said in a gravelly voice. The Fitness administrator stood in protest. " You cannot, we will not allow it..." He was cut off by her taloned claws around his throat. The talons dug into his neck creating small streams of blood as he was held off the ground easily by the muscular alien. " You would do well to remember you have no power here. You are a teacher. Nothing more. You prepare these students for the  use  of the Galactic Alliance in ANY way they see fit. Our warriors are running low and we need more." Her rasping voice was cold and dripped with menace. The man gasped for breath. "To send to the slaughter you mean." The Quatai's grey face showed a flicker of anger and her hand flexed for a moment and blood poured out five points on his neck. She grinned and released him and he fell to the ground, his neck in tatters and his existence now ended. "Does anyone else care to question our choice?" she challenged. The room was silent. "Well then. We have a winner." The Quatai motioned for the two red skinned male Ardaik's to follow her out the room.

The council sat in disbelief at the inevitable loss of their best student, and the loss of the Administrator that had befell them.  A woman known as K'rene stood, her face cold and impersonal as she studied the room. "Tell the girl. We will have no more blood spilled today. It is better to sacrifice one life than to face the wrath of the Alliance. I will do this." She scanned the room, sensing resignation and defeat. " Meeting dismissed."

K'rene left the room and was quickly overtaken by Kestra. She cursed under her breath and turned to face him. " What is it director?" she said shortly. He studied her pale face. " I was curious as to your out of place demeanor in the Conference Room. It is unlike you to be so pitiless." K'rene sighed with exasperation. "Every 6 months this happens. Sometimes they take 2 or three. Sometimes it's one. We should thank the skies when it is only one. I have grown accustomed to this ritual. It is no matter. Just another human girl." Kestra shook his head, his reptilian face disapproving at her words. Well let him. This would be over in several hours and everyone would have forgotten Aster.



Calm before the Storm


Cafeteria- 7:00 AM 

Aster laughed with Driela, the  blue humanoid, light and happy. She ate the standard academy food that was disgusting. Sure it was "nutrient rich" but who actually likes this stuff? 

"Seriously though Aster! He's older than us and couldn't even finish the course. The entire time he was complaining. And we both know he could of matched you stride for stride. What a drama queen!" She laughed. Aster's face tightened. "We both know why. He doesn't want to be chosen by the agents. I should have done the same. I just couldn't.. Something kept telling me to keep going and do my best. Faking it would have seemed dishonest." Driela became serious. " Aster, they won't choose you. Surely someone did better." Her  comment did little to reassure her friend. " And besides, you fainted!" She teased. Aster laughed, but quickly stopped. Doran came up with his pack of faithful Kilana admirors. Aster glared at him. His handsome face smiled leeringly and Driela's blue face turned purple with a mixture of rage and fear. The Ta'a was looking for a fight and Aster was in no mood to stand for it. " I hear you did very well Aster," he spoke, his silky hand brushing her bronzed cheek. Her sea blue eyes blazed with fury and she slapped his hand away and twisted the wrist to which it connected. He in turn looked angry. " This year you will be leaving. The Alliance will be.. blessed, to have you." He sneered. "And we will finally be rid of your presense." Doran looked pitifully at Driela. "What ever will you do without your human body guard, mongrel." Aster rose to her feet menacingly, and launched a well-aimed kick at his jaw. His body thudded to the ground and he met her eyes with hatred and an amusing attempt to appear threatening, a difficult feat to manage when one's jaw is bent to the right and is lying on the ground. She was about to beat him again, when the director's voice cut the deadly silence. "Stop! I will not have violence between my students!".  A slow smile spread her face at the irony of his words. " Really." She laughed dryly . "Because when it's in the name of games, or to send us to slaughter, no one seems to mind. Perhaps a permanent reminder in the mess hall of the blood spilt would at least keep our memory alive. After all, everyone knows that as soon as I leave, my name won't be heard again." Sadness filled Kestra's vaguely humanoid features as he gazed down at the fiery girl. "It is regrettable, but necessary. After all, the Alliance keeps us safe. You should be honored." Aster's face grew hard at his words. " So, then. There was none better. Or no one had the morals to honestly compete. It doesn't matter." Kestra realized his error too late to back pedal. He truly was sorry, but if he intervened, it would jeopardize many lives. It wouldn't do for her to know that. Pity made a warrior weak. "You leave tomorrow morning. Failure to comply will result in your exectution." Aster's chin raised in a show of moderate defience and she turned heel and left a heart broken friend, a gleeful foe and a conflicted director.


Dormitory 7:30 am

Aster lay brooding on her bunk, staring at a white ceiling when her friend entered. Driela approached the bed and gently touched her arm. " What are we going to do?" Aster's head turned to look at her blue faced friend, sadly, she said "We are going to do nothing. I'm going to go and do my duty to the Alliance that plagues the galaxy with it's false claims of peace." She paused and with a mournful smile, continued. "You are going to forget I existed. For your good." Driela became angry with her and spat back, "I will not! We are going to do something. I don't know what, but we're gonna get out of here. I don't care what you say, I won't let you do this. You're too valuable to throw your life away, your role is elsewhere. I'll go with you, we'll go beyond the galaxy, destroy the Alliance, something!" Aster shook her head. Driela nearly screamed in despair, when she recalled something, something to sway her childhood friend. A brilliant thought entered her brain and upon the wall, she displayed a swaying argument. 

A message

They left at night fall. They brought nothing with them, save for the cameo-tech body suits upon their backs, and a small selection of weapons. Aster carried a knife, along with a small powerful hand-gun. Driela was armed with a stave she adapted to suit her tech-savy preferences. They slipped out of the room by way of the wide window that faced the edge of the Academy's campus. Aster stood on the outer window sill and slowly croughed until her gloved fingertips semi-supported her weight and swung her feet off of the ledge, leaving her hanging over the edge. She swung her legs until her booted feet found slight purshase on the chinks between the blocks of steel. Driela followed suit, her own feet and fingers deftly feeling the outer wall for the slightest grip. There was a reason no one left through the window. Getting down safely, was nearly impossible. Aster was nearly 50 feet from the ground when her fingers lost purchase on the smooth metal and she slid. Her body banged against the reformed steel with a jarring, heart wrenching thud, not once, but twice before she was able to slow the fall with outspread fingertips those grippy gloves squeaked noisily against the wall. Driela frantically was watching, concern pulling at her mouth before continuing her slippery, and now more cautious descent. It was a good half unit of time before they reached the safety of the ground, but there was still far to go.




Texte: Anna Berggren
Bildmaterialien: Bing
Lektorat: Myself
Tag der Veröffentlichung: 31.12.2012

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