Qualified Entry: Fiction Category
By: Christina Abel
Back when I was six, my parents went into hiding with me. It was a time of many power struggles in our little country of Salba. The newcomers staged a coup and overthrew the government. The newcomers told Salba that they would give us what we wanted, money, space, and jobs. They called themselves “The Savvas” or the saviors. Soon they started conquering the lands around us, taking over every country they could. My parents thought the Savvas were wrong. They weren’t afraid to tell people either, so the Savvas murdered them and left me an orphan. I did what I could to survive and made up my mind to somehow get the old government back into power. I fled to Caligam, a country much too powerful to be conquered by Salba. I joined their military as soon as I could to be sure to defeat Salba’s new government.
I met Sylvia here and she became the one and only friend I have and can trust with all my secrets. We’ve been training for five months.
“Everybody up!” The lights flicked on. “I want every girl in this room to be up, dressed, and down to breakfast in seven minutes!”
I rolled over to see our sergeant standing in the doorway, the bright daylight framing her frame. With another shout she slammed the door and headed for the next cabin. I sighed. Getting up, I looked around the room. As usual I was one of only a few girls getting up. The rest were still in bed. I grabbed my clothes and toothbrush and walked half asleep toward the bathroom. As I put on my uniform, I thought about what it would be like to actually sleep in. I pulled my wavy hair into a neat bun, stuffing the dark blue escapees under my hat. Throwing my nightclothes into my trunk I waited for Sylvia.
“Good morning!” she smiled. Sylvia loved the morning. She was always happy.
“Morning.” We walked through the rows of bunk beds and stepped out into the bright day. We trudged through the mud toward the cafeteria.
After mushy oatmeal and changing into our drill clothes, we ran the obstacle course, climbing walls, dodging poles, and wiggling under barbed wire. Then we performed all of the emergency drills. By lunch, we were close to passing out. When I signed up to be in Caligam’s military, I didn’t think it would be this much work, but what other choice was there for someone like me?
We went back to our rooms for quiet time. Most girls this time spent writing their families, friends and boyfriends. I lay down for a nap thinking about what it must feel like to be normal. I shut my eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Sylvia woke me up in just enough time to grab a snack before heading out for the final drills. Sweating, we worked on our sword skills. I sidestepped a lunge and thrust at my partner. She deflected, it trying to get at my throat, but in one movement I put her in a headlock with cold steel to her neck. She surrendered and we started again. After an hour, we switched partners. I lined up with my usual partner when Lieutenant Rose pulled me aside.
“Ms. Athena Quate, you will be training with Major Darcon Tacil. Head over to the gate. He will be there in ten minutes.”
“Yes Ma’am.” I saluted. Walking across the deserted campus, I heard the sounds of girls training in different sections.
A million thoughts were running through my head as I walked toward the gate. When I arrived he wasn’t there yet. I looked around wondering why they decided to let me train with a boy. I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
“Ms. Athena Quate?” I turned to see a boy standing on the other side of the gate.
“Alright, come on through.” He unlocked the gate and led me into a private cabin. I looked him over, taking in his short, dirty blond hair, green eyes, and tan skin. It matched my own.
“I’m Darcon Tacil, top training soldier in my unit.” He bowed and stretched out his hand to me.
“Athena Quate. I’m one of the top soldiers in my unit as well.” I replied shaking his hand. His eyes passed over me like he was summing me up and as if he knew my every thought. In one second he had me on the floor, hands behind my back.
“Guess the meet and greet is over.” I mumbled.
“Lesson One: Never trust a stranger,” he whispered near my ear. Releasing me from the uncomfortable position, he stood up. I spun and watched him as I got off the ground. He laughed smugly to himself, arms crossed, shaking his head. Pretending to adjust my shirt, I rubbed my shoulder. I didn’t like Darcon very much, at least not the way he carried himself.
“Ready for Lesson Two?”
“Yes,” I glared. Another laugh. He started to circle me.
“Okay. Let’s start with the basics.”
“And they are?” I matched his circling so he couldn’t get behind me. Some movement outside the window caught my eye. His arms were around me in an instant. I struggled to fight him off, but he was too strong.
His arm around my neck, ready to strangle me, he said, “Never let anything distract you. It may cost you your life.” He let me go and we repeated the process until I learned lessons three, four, and five. Gasping for air, I clung to the wall for support. As my hair came loose and fell around my shoulders he announced we were done for the day. When we got to the gate he unlocked it, but held it shut.
“You look mad,” he commented, his eyes meeting mine. I blinked.
“What did you expect when the first thing you did was shove me onto the floor from a handshake?” He looked confused.
“I’m treating you just as I would any other new recruit. Lieutenant Rose told me not to do anything different, that you could handle anything I threw at you. Was she wrong?”
“No,” I defended myself.
“What happened to you?” Sylvia asked when I got back to the room.
“I met my new trainer.”
“That’s why you disappeared. Who is it?” I told her about Darcon. Her eyes grew wide.
“You’re training with Darcon Tacil?”
“You don’t know his story?” she asked in amazement. I shook my head. “No”. She pulled me onto her bed.
“”You can’t tell anyone this.” As she spoke, her voice lowered. “Darcon was seven when it happened. The Savvas tried to invade Caligam with spies. A couple of them wound up in Romod, Darcon’s hometown. They acted like refugees fleeing another country Salba had conquered. Darcon’s parents took them in.
“His parents were leading government officials, they knew almost everything going on and had it written down in hiding places at their home. Darcon went to a military school because his father pulled strings to get him in at a young age. Darcon wanted so much to be like his father. His father was a highly praised military and government official.
“While he was off at school being privately tutored and his parents off on government business for the day, the spies had full access to their home. Within a week the spies found all the information they needed, so they started packing. The spies didn’t realize it was a half-day at school for Darcon and a half-day at work for his parents. They came home early wondering why their refugees were packing to leave. Then Revon, Darcon’s father spotted his papers sticking out of the spies’ suitcases. Revon began to ask them questions. They shot him and Aster, Darcon’s mother. Darcon hid in the house, but when the spies couldn’t find him they set the house on fire. But Darcon escaped and ran to his parents’ offices and told the first people he saw what had happened.
“The spies were stopped in another town. They were put in jail for life. Darcon tried to continue on. He was supposed to live here temporarily, but it’s been temporary for eleven years now. I’d say it’s permanent. He is the best soldier in the entire boys army. He’s never taught anyone by themselves before, only groups of people. You’re lucky, Athena. Anyone would give anything to train with him for a day and it looks like he’s your new trainer from now on.”
The next few weeks after that were hectic. I got up earlier than everyone else and still only had time for a muffin before heading over to the gate. We trained until lunch and then after lunch we trained until dinner. When I got back to the dorm I took a quick shower, collapsed on my bed, and then passed out. All while I tried to figure out why Sergeant Rose told Darcon to train me. But nothing presented itself. After 100 lessons and a month of training, he told me what was really happening.
“So, do you think your ready?” He asked walking me to the gate.
“Ready for what?”
“You know…” He glanced around to make sure no one could hear. “The special project?” I looked at him, hoping there would be a clue on his face.
“She didn’t tell you yet, did she?” He looked away and sighed. “She was supposed to tell you by now. Guess I have to.” I stopped walking and grabbed his arm, turning him to face me.
“Darcon, what is it?”
“Well…” He took a deep breath and slowly let it out. “Sergeant Rose told me to pick 4 boys in my unit to be trained privately and that I’d be training you. She put my 4 boys with the best trainer in the camp. We were told to train all of you in the most effective methods possible. After a month she wanted us to be training as a strike force team together. We will go into Salba undercover, help put the old government back into power, and lock the Savvas leaders in jail for the rest of their lives.”
As excitement built in my chest, a smile crossed my face.
“ I can’t believe it. It’s actually happening and I’m a part of it. Wow.“ I said as I stood there in awe.
“You can’t tell anyone.”
“Why not? This is great! It’s what we’ve been waiting for.”
“Because if a spy found out and told the Savvas our plans, they would know the perfect time to take us out.” I nodded. I wished I could tell Sylvia.
The next day, Sergeant Rose checked on us. We trained as usual. I was getting better everyday, but that didn’t help the fact that Darcon was bigger and stronger than me. Sergeant Rose stayed with us the whole day. She said at the end of the week after surveying the others, she would decide if we were ready. We were.
We spent the next week getting acquainted and learning each others fighting styles. Everyone’s was different. We had all learned a lot and tried to apply it to our different styles.
The boys were easy enough to get along with besides a few jokes every now and then. They learned not to tease me very quickly.
The best of the four was Jaylith. He had scarlet hair arranged in an overgrown buzz cut, royal blue eyes, and skin lighter than mine.
Next was Ravone. He has very dark violet hair in the same haircut as Jaylith, accompanied by dark yellow eyes, that seemed to glow.
Third was Sevel. Sevel’s hair, another overgrown buzz cut, was a dark, dark green and his eyes, hazel.
The rookie of the group was Lukeer. Jet black hair with the same haircut as the others and silver eyes made him appear older than he was.
By the end of the week we were ready.
We were briefed on our mission and then given a day to pack and say goodbye to our friends. I told Sylvia I was going into an exchange program. I would be switched with a girl from another camp for a while. She begged me to stay or to get her into the program too. I said the deadline had passed and I couldn’t back out.
The space for us on the plane was claustrophobic. The air became stale and cold as we gained altitude. We sat in silence and thought about our mission.
We landed on an airstrip in the Detroid Mountains in Salba. At the hidden headquarters, the members of the old government waited. We met with them and they wished us ‘good luck’.
We set out in groups of two so we wouldn’t attract any attention when we arrived in town. Each group took two targets. The groups were Jaylith and Sevel, Darcon and Lukeer, and Ravone and I. Ravone and I took our targets first. Lenith was easily captured. We found pulled over on the side of the road with car troubles. We offered him a ride and turned him in. We found Clise at a store. Flattering him about being one of the best political leaders, we lured him to the car with the promise of a ‘surprise’. Finding out he was being arrested was a big surprise. He attempted to get away, but Ravone secured his hands while I covered his mouth. The other teams each caught one person before the news leaked out. The two left were a couple. They lived a few miles outside of town, the perfect place for a capture. We scoped out the land. A brick mansion with three floors and marble stairs leading to the front door, sat on four acres of a plantation. We checked the entrances and went in.
We split up when we got inside the house. Darcon and Lukeer explored the first floor, Jaylith and Sevel took the third floor, and Ravone and I went up to the second floor. Ravone went down the right hall and I went to the left. I checked every room that was unlocked first. Then I picked open the locked ones. At the third door I paused. There were noises. They sounded like low whispers. With both hands on my gun I kick the door open.
Trying to calm down so they couldn’t hear my heart beating, I crept in. I heard papers shuffling and raised my gun. Reaching back to turn on the lights, I saw two people. A couple holding hands, their eyes wide with fear. They had no weapons and slowly raised their hands.
“Please don’t hurt us. We didn’t do anything,” the woman cried. The man only looked at me. My eyes went back and forth from one to the other. They seemed familiar.
“You…you’re her.” The man turned to look at the woman. “That’s the girl. The one we left. The one we were supposed to kill.”
A shiver ran through my body. That’s why they looked familiar. They had murdered my parents.
“A-Athena Quate, right?” I glared at him.
“Tell me why I shouldn’t pull the trigger, after all you’ve done.”
“Because we were forced to do it. There was no choice except to be put in prison for life or maybe killed.”
“You could’ve run away and joined another country’s side, like I did.” I raised my gun. Tears gathered in my eyes, remembering that last night with my parents. The couple gripped their hands tighter together and moved toward each other. They exchanged looks as if saying goodbye and faced me, tall and strong, ready for their punishment.
I glanced at each of them. I started squeezing the trigger.
“Did anyone find anything? We didn’t.” Darcon’s voice came over the radio. I reached for my radio with one hand still pointing the gun with the other. I listened to the others all saying that there was nothing to report. I looked at the couple, lowered my gun, and sighed.
“Nothing to report here either.”
“Nothing to report, huh?” I spun around.
“Ravone!” I stared in surprise. “I-I thought you were in the other hallway.”
“I finished early.”
“Oh. Umm.” I looked back and forth from him to the couple, feeling my cheeks getting hot.
“Hey guys.” He waved to the couple. They smiled and waved back. A puzzled look crossed my face. While I was off guard trying to figure it all out, he took my gun in one swift movement and pointed it at me.
“What are you doing?” I yelled.
“Joining my side.”
It all fell into place. My eyes widened and my jaw dropped. I couldn’t say anything.
“Now be a good girl and go down where we were supposed to rendezvous with the others. Don’t say anything about this or you’ll all be dead. If Darcon asks where I am tell him ‘I don’t know, we got separated’. Okay?” I nodded. “Good. Now go.”
I shook with fear as I climbed down the stairs wondering what to do. If I told Darcon, Ravone would kill me. If I didn’t tell Darcon, something worse was sure to happen. I couldn’t stop trembling when I met the others.
“Where’s Ravone?” Darcon asked.
“I’m not sure. We got separated.” I calmed my voice.
“Does anyone else hear that?” Lukeer asked. We listened. A faint ticking sound came from around the corner. We stiffened.
“Everyone out!” Darcon shouted. A few seconds later there was a boom that shook everything. A heat wave knocked me down and I heard a ringing in my ears. I glanced up with half-opened eyes. Red-orange flames climbed the building. I could only make out shapes because my vision was blurred. I tried to pull my thoughts together. Check if any bones were broken. Find Darcon, Jaylith, Sevel, and Lukeer and make sure they were alright. Get out and if we had the chance…find Ravone.
I focused on getting up. Nothing felt broken, but everything hurt. My body felt heavy, like I was made out of lead. Looking around, I saw some of the others standing up too. I called out all of their names. Darcon didn’t answer. We hurried to find him while the building burned around us. All of the moisture seemed to leave my body. My hair stuck to my face as I groped through the smoke. I saw something move under a piece of the rafter. Hoping the radio worked, I put out a message saying I found him, but no one responded. The rafter wasn’t burning yet, but it would be soon. I attempted to pick it up, but it didn’t budge. My eyes were burning with smoke and my hands felt like they were on fire. I considered going for help, but I wasn’t sure how long it would be before the building caved in. I decided to put a help message on the radio and then try to free Darcon.
“What’s going on?” he grunted as I nudged the rafter.
“Darcon!” I rushed to his side and knelt down. “How are you feeling?”
“How do you think I’m feeling?”
“Sorry. Can you move any?”
“Do you think if I lifted the rafter you could get out from underneath it?”
“I can try.” I scooted towards the rafter and lay down next to it.
“1…2…3!” I pushed the rafter up and he wiggled free. I let it fall to the side of me. We helped each other up and fought our way to the door. The boys were outside, waiting for us. As we stumbled outside Darcon lost consciousness and slumped to the ground. I collapsed next to him trying to breathe oxygen into my lungs. The others rushed over to us.
Sevel had some medical training, and he examined us. Jaylith and Lukeer were fine, except for headaches and a couple of burns. Darcon didn’t have any broken bones, but close to it. I had a few bruises, a headache and burns on my hands. All of our ears were ringing. Sevel said it would stop in a day or two.
After walking a few miles to the base of a mountain, we laid down in the grass, and built a fire. The grass, cold and damp, made a decent bed and we fell asleep.
The sun’s rays burst over the mountain, flooding us with light. I woke up first, watching red, orange, and yellow play across the sky.
“Good morning,” I called to Jaylith, Sevel, and Lukeer. They mumbled and staggered over to my seat, shaking the dew from their hair. We talked until Darcon stirred and they went to wake him up..
“Morning, sleepy head” Jaylith said as Darcon sat up.
“Morning. How is everyone?” he rubbed his neck. Sevel gave him the medical report. “At least no one is seriously injured,” he finished. “Wait, where’s Ravone?”
Everyone looked at me. I put my head down, wondering what to tell them. Would it be better to say we were separated and hadn’t seen him since or should I tell the truth?
“Athena?” I looked into Darcon’s emerald eyes, took a deep breath, and told him what happened. When I finished, no one said anything. Their mouths were open, eyes wide, staring.
“Then we need to move. I’m sure Ravone will check the area to make sure we’re…” he glanced around. “Lukeer, check to see if you can contact headquarters. Use the back up. Sevel, Jaylith stay with him. Search for patrols in the tree line. Athena, you’re with me. We’re going to get the backpacks”
“Yes, sir!” we said in unison.
“Oh, and if you run into anyone, you’ll have to use the hand-to-hand combat methods you were taught. Unless you can undisintegrate your gun.” We left the three others hiding in a bush and set off through the trees. Darcon found the first marker we left and we had no problems on the way there.
Footprints were at the site, so we looked around. Nothing moved except for some birds. It didn’t seem like they found our packs, but we inspected them. No bombs, trackers, or anything. Taking turns on watch, we changed into our spare clothes. Then we headed back.
Lukeer contacted headquarters and they sent a helicopter for us. When it arrived hidden patrols shot at us. We grabbed our stuff and threw it into the helicopter as we ran to get inside. We swerved to evade the bullets. We got away with some holes in the helicopter, thankfully no one was hurt.
At headquarters, we debriefed what happened and suggested another location. After a few days of rest and doctor’s care, we were loaded onto a transport plane. I couldn’t believe it was over. It seemed as if it began a couple of days ago, but it had been almost two months since we began training.
After the plane took off, Sergeant Rose came and congratulated us. She shook our hand, patted us on the back, and congratulated. As I watched her, I thought about everything that had led to me being here. How our mission went, training, what our mission was for, Ravone, the couple, and my parents. My cheeks burned and my eyes blurred. I blinked to keep the tears away. With a last congratulations, she went back to the cockpit. I slipped out of the compartment and ran silently to the cargo bay. It would be cold, but I didn’t think of that. I just wanted to be alone. I slumped down behind a box in the back. I pulled my knees to my chest and rested my head on them. My hair fell around me and the tears came. Rolling down my cheeks, they left trails of frost behind. I shivered from cold and stress.
“Athena!” Darcon’s voice crashed into my thoughts. “Athena!” he called from down the hall. I tried to control my sobs as he got closer. “Athena?” He was at the door. A sob escaped and the crying came again. “Athena!” He sat down and put his arm around me, warming my frozen shoulders.
“What’s the matter?”
“I-I…” I stared at the floor. “I couldn’t do it. When I raised my gun I saw the same fears in their eyes as my parents. I just couldn’t do it.” I shook my head.
“It’s ok.” He whispered. “It’s all over now. We’ve done our job.” He rubbed my arm and pushed back my hair.
“But I didn’t do what I was supposed to. When you radioed for all of us to check in, I should’ve said that I’d found something instead of ‘nothing to report’.”
“Look at me.” I kept my eyes on the floor. He sighed. “Look at me.” He took my chin and pulled my face to meet his. I focused on the steam our breath created. He waited. I made eye contact after a minute.
“It’s alright. It’s not your fault things turned out the way they are. We all break rules sometimes.” He wiped the tears and frost from my cheeks. “Why don’t you get some sleep?” I nodded and leaned into him.
“Thanks.” I said.
“Everything.” I smiled. He put his other arm around me, giving me a hug and I fell asleep to the rumble of the plane.