My calves throb with every step I take as I run wildly down this corridor then up the next one. A fork in the path is up ahead. I’m unsure of where to turn next. Right or left? Does it make a difference?
Maybe not. Either way, they’ll find me. Who are they? Ones who will kill me. Why? Where am I trying to get to anyway? Why am I here? I can’t even remember now. Unexpected energy renews me. Wild energy, almost animalistic. Fear. Am I an animal? No, but who am I? I have a name, right? What is it? Connor, right? I think so. Parents, do I have those? Maybe.
Getting tired. Can’t stop running. Stopping means death. I must keep going. But going where? It doesn’t matter, just go. Go, go!
Running down another hallway. It’s dark. I’m getting too tired to keep going. I’m panting too hard; I need a break, just for a moment. They can’t find me in the dark can they? I have to stop. Lean against the wall. It’s cold and rough. Maybe I’m underground. In a cave, perhaps? I feel my chest. I didn’t know that my heart could beat this fast. It’s probably dangerous. Oh well, better a heart attack than murdered, right? Maybe. Anyone who knows is dead now. They can’t tell me. Ha, dead men tell no tales, right? A joke. Is that humor? That’s funny, right?
I slide down the wall. Strange, the passage is wide enough for me to sit down with my legs stretched out. It hadn’t felt like that when I was running.
Something jabs my side. What…? It feels like metal. It’s L-shaped. It’s thick and heavy. A hole in the long end. I run my hands along the shape; in the crook of the L something moves. I pull on it.
An explosion; the thing rocks back. Pain, so much pain. In my toes, some of them aren’t there anymore. Blood is covering my foot. Pain, pain, pain, throbbing pain. Can I still run like this? Running, I have to start running again. They’ll catch up with me. Will they be able to follow my blood? I stand up and start running again. It hurts, but I can still run. Better in pain than dead, right? Probably.
Maybe I can use the explosion-maker to kill them before they kill me. That thing has a name. I used to know its name. What was it? Why did I know its name? What happened before the maze of tunnels and hallways? I can’t remember anything. Just hold the thing tight; don’t want the ones that are chasing me to find it.
There’s light up ahead; I run faster. Now I’m in a large room. There’s something wrong with it. The floor is full of holes. No, that’s not it; it’s an enormous pit that fills the center of the room. There’s…what are they called? Pillars, that’s it. Tall pillars reaching up from inside the pit.
I can see a door at the other end of the room. If I jump from pillar to pillar, maybe I can make it. It’s a far jump, longer than I am. If I miss, then I fall to my death. Better that than murdered, right? Maybe, maybe not.
I walk back a few steps; a running jump should help. I run, pushing against the ground, rushing and then leap! Nothing but air then I thud onto a pillar. Safe. Safe for a moment, maybe. Run and jump again. Again. There are so many pillars.
Suddenly, there’s a noise at the door I just came from. Barking. Animals come into view. What were they called? All I know is that they’re used for hunting. They must be hunting me. I have to go faster. Those animals might be able to jump. I jump to the next pillar. The next one is much farther away. Can I make?
More barking. I look back. One of the creatures flies through the air, landing soundly on the first pillar. It looks like the others are about to do the same.
I have to jump. I step back a bit. Maybe another running jump will work. I step carefully to the edge. Breathe in. Breathe out. Now run and push off. I fly through the air and...no! I’m going down too soon. I won’t make it. Better fall to my death than to be torn to shreds by those animals, right? Probably, yeah, probably. I don’t know for sure though. Desperately, I stretch for the ledge of the pillar, praying (praying to who?) that I’ll make it.
My body slams against the pillar; my arms land hard over the top, my fingertips just barely graze the opposite edge. I suddenly feel a rush of hope and I dig my fingers into the stone. I suddenly realize how heavy I must be. It’s hard to hold on. I bend my arms, trying to pull myself up. I kick my legs and they hit the stone pillar. An idea comes to me. I use my feet to push my body upwards. It works. I heave my abdomen over the edge of the pillar. I’m up on the pillar. Only one more until the end of the room. Had it really been that close before? One last leap. I’ve made it! Even though the animals are still howling, I feel strangely safe as I run through the door.
Then a voice speaks, “You’ve surprised me. I didn’t think you’d make it once we let the dogs in.” The speaker, a woman in a white coat, walks up to me. “Your survival instincts have proven that you will be competent as a solider. This, along with your scores from your other tests, makes you suitable for a high placement in the army. There is just one final test.” She turns her head and says something into a small white device in her hand.
“W-what?” I stutter. I stare at the woman, another human. A human like me; memories, memories of years of life, the world, everything rushes back. I stumble forward; so much information makes me weak. The war. I’d enlisted to fight, to defend my family and country. But I had no idea they’d make me run this crazy test.
“Connor?” A familiar voice reaches my ears and I turn. It’s Rachel, my childhood friend. “Connor, what’s going on?” Confusion mars her pretty face.
The woman in the lab coat steps forward, “Recent orders have required that all new officers must be capable of terminating civilians without hesitation if necessary. You know the logo: ‘Desperate times call for desperate measures.’ Shoot the girl.”
“What?” I must have misheard her. She can’t mean what I think she said.
“Shoot the girl and you will pass. You must prove yourself capable.” She sees my expression of horror and a wave of sympathy passes over her face. “Don’t be too concerned,” she says. “It’ll get easier after the first time. And besides, this girl is already condemned. Shoot her.”
“No,” I say, reaching for the gun that had blown off two of my toes. I press it against my temple and say, “Better to die now than become a murderer.” Then I pull the trigger.
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