Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Genre: YA/ Dystopic
Imp reached back and slid the stealth suit’s probe into the port at the base of her neck. Grabbing her long dark hair she twisted it into a ponytail, pulled the stealth suit hood over it and tucked her hair inside. She adjusted her headset and then slid her hand across the C-port embedded in the sleeve to activate the suit. Black and charcoal poppies of color bloomed across the suit, growing and bleeding into one another until it was a perfect match to the bleak backdrop of the forest. Data, collected from sensors embedded in the fabric, surged through her nervous system carrying with it the across the exposed skin of her face and hands turning them a mottled ashen grey. Imp held her hand out and wriggled her fingers, straining to see them against the ground.
“Whoa,” she said, drawing the word out more exhaled than exclaimed.
She took a few quick steps to test the feel of the data as it changed in relation to her surroundings. The muscles in her back tensed as the flow ran down her spine. Her nervous system tingled and it felt as if her whole body was laughing. A grin slid across her lips, not that anyone could have seen it in her currents state, as she broke into a sprint.
The suit shifted colors rapidly to match the passing scenery. Imp’s heart beat sped up rapidly as if to keep time as the data flow throbbed through her body. The exhilaration of the tingling gave way to the unnerving sensation of a thousand tiny rats gnawing on the tender threads of nerves. Imp pushed harder, hoping to outrun the pain until the world began to dim at the edges of her vision.
She stopped and lurched over, palms resting against her thighs and gulped in air. It tasted stale and stung her nose but the coolness displaced the burning in her lungs and seemed like a fair trade to her. After a moment the lightheaded feeling began to slip away and, confident she wasn’t going to pass out, she began negotiations with her stomach about the fate of her breakfast. This wasn’t exactly how she had envisioned starting her stealth suit training.
Once Imp and her stomach had reached an agreement she stood. She stepped forward gingerly as if checking to make sure the ground was still solid and finding it sound took another step. Pacing herself this time to allow her body to adjust to the data flow, she made her way through the petrified trees.
She tried to imagine what the transfer would’ve felt like when the forest had been alive. She’d seen pictures of the world before when it was lush and green, spotted with every hue of the spectrum. She shuddered at the thought of that running through her body. But the world she lived in was void of color, the forest nothing more than a negative of itself. But the landscape was just one more casualty of the Great War and the only time the forest ever looked green to her was in the dark, through her night vision contacts.
Lightning lacerated the sky above her, followed by the heavy rumble of thunder. The storms came more often these days, but they never brought rain. Even if they had, Imp wasn’t sure the ground was capable of being fruitful anymore. There wasn’t much that thrived outside the base nestled inside the mountain. Except the variants she had been trained her entire life to hunt.
Imp reached up and flicked her headset on and a series of numbers and letters streamed across her retina display.
“Janip, you there?” Imp asked.
“Where’ve you been?” Janip’s voice came from the headset. “The other Slayers stats are coming in already. We fell down the ranking, to third,” Janip said, the last sentence taking on a shrill tone that Imp recognized as panic.
“Relax, I’m just giving them some leeway before I annihilate them. I’m nice like that.”
A loud thumping came over the headset; Imp cringed and pulled it away from her ear.
“Ow, seriously Janip what the hell?”
“Just checking the connection. I think there’s something wrong with it, it sounded like you said you were nice.”
“Funny,” Imp said.
“So what’s the plan?”
“Bigger trees, bigger numbers.”
“You were told to stay low and take it slow. If you turn back now down, you’ve still got time to get a few good merges in and…”
“No. We were told not to go high. I’m not going high, just midway up the hill where the trees are a little bit bigger,” Imp said and then added with a snicker, “I promise to walk there slowly.”
Imp picked a rock up and rubbed it on her mic, “What I can’t hear you there’s a lot of static today.”
“Touche,” Janip sighed.
Imp hit her mute button and jogged up the hill. As she ran she ticked through combat stances in her head, a trick she had learned in survival training for externalizing pain. That seemed to help keep her mind off the data flow and the queasiness stayed at bay. Several feet up the hill she made a quick right and headed toward a small grove of trees she had noticed on the map. As she neared it, she caught a fleeting glimpse of something from the corner of her eye. A ripple against the backdrop of the forest. She whipped her head towards the movement, her breath catching in her lungs. She dropped to the forest floor and kneeled, her hand fluttering to the empty holster on her belt. It took a moment for the void there to register. She had left her gun in the arsenal, as had all the Slayer trainees, at the request of their commanding officers.
“Jan, did you see movement near me on your display?” Imp whispered.
“I saw a…” she stopped mid sentence and frowned. She hadn’t really seen anything. “Like a ripple.”
“A ripple?” Janip questioned.
“Yeah. Like when you see a reflection in water and poke the surface and the image ripples.”
Shifting her weight from one foot to the other to change her perspective, Imp continued to stare towards the space where she had seen the ripple. The swooshing sound of her blood pounding in her ears all but drowned out the thunder overhead. She scanned the area for anything she could use as a weapon. Her gaze fell on a jagged rock within arms length. She reached towards it, catching it with the tips of her fingers and pulling it closer until she was able to grab it. The sharp edges bit into her skin as she gripped it tighter and braced herself for an attack. While she had a great respect for her commanding officers confidence that the training zone had been swept of variants and locked down, she had an even greater respect for her own intuition. And right now hers was screaming that she wasn't alone.
“Someone’s probably having trouble with their stealth suit. The system’s been kind of glitchy today and a couple of suits that aren’t reliably tracking. I don’t see anything near you on the map,” Janip said.
“Nothing breached the zone?” Imp whispered, her eyes wide and locked straight ahead.
“Checking,” Janip said. A pause followed that was in reality no more than wnty seconds but seemed like an hour to Imp. “Nope, no zone breaches.”
Some of the tension relaxed from Imp’s body but her hand left hand still rested on the empty holster and her right gripped the rock. Over the past year five Slayers had disappeared while on duty, the most recent being Larkin. Imp had no plans for being number six.
She stood and headed back toward the grove, pausing a few times to check behind her, unable to shake the feeling she was being trailed. She ignored it and pushed it away. Janip was the best navigator she knew and if she thought it was just a glitchy suit that had passed by, then that was good enough for her.
Imp stopped just short of the grove as if she had hit an invisible wall. Brow furrowed she stared mouth agape at the grove. She had assumed the large dark spots on the map indicated trees that were larger than those on the forest floor. But now, standing before them she could see that wasn’t the case. These trees, though much smaller, were positioned so closely together that it was difficult to distinguish one from the next. Their branches entwined, twisted by the ancient winds and froze in time by petrifaction. They reminded Imp of a group of survivors, clinging to one another for safety. She supposed in some ways they were.
“Is your camera on?” Imp asked Janip.
“Are you seeing these?” Imp asked Janip.
“Yeah and you’re crazy if you want to try to do a merge to that. I mean maybe we can give it a try when we’ve gotten more practice in…”
“I was fine on the way up here,” Imp lied, thankful she had waited to turn her headset on, “We’re doing it now.”
“No way. Anything happens to you and it’s my ass that’s in trouble. Well, yours and mine but yours will be dead, so I’m more concerned about mine.”
“Why would you even want to try that?”
“There has to be eight to nine trees in that formation, the data stream is going to be gigantic. This one merge will give us at least double the points the other teams get. You were the one bitching about rankings earlier. Are you in or not?”
Imp crossed her arms and looked further up the hill as she waited for her Navigator’s response. Her headset remained silent. She noticed a smaller grouping of three trees a few yards away and crossed the short distance to get a better look. The branches of this group were also entwined but, unlike the larger group their trunks were spaced further apart, allowing just enough room for Imp to wriggle between them. A grin spread across her full lips. Being the smallest of the Slayers had its advantages.
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