One is often lead to believe that peace is the natural state of the world, when one first awakes in the morning and the sun shines through the shutters in narrow slits, it's not until you throw them open and let in the noise that one realises the it's been a constant battle since dawn. Insects eating smaller insects, birds chasing the larger insects, and all sorts of predators after the birds.
Predators like me.
I lie in wait, watching the swallows dive to and fro, but they're not my prey. They're too small and fast to be worth the effort. No, I have my heart set on something much better. I frown, glancing up at the sun. Something that should be here by now. I scour the trees before me, taking in every detail. Still nothing. I start to worry. Maybe my calculations were wrong? Could I really be in the wrong place? It had never happened to me before, and I was so sure. I was always so sure.
Then I saw it, a flash of gold among the bushes. I smiled, ready to pounce. Of course I wasn't wrong. I could never be wrong.
I leap forward, my body shifting and changing as the bots received the signals from my brain, transforming. I trained past the pain, and have seamless control. A prodigy, they call me.
I land softly, slicing through the air, capturing the stunned creature with my blades, and it is done. The beautiful creature dead, I stand, myself again, its blood on my hands.
I hold the bird above my head, and shout to to sky.
"Initiate Neive, number one-one-six, batch three-five. Mission objective: Phoenix complete."
I hear the sound of the copter as it whirs closer, and watch as it lands. The bird, which had started smoking softly, disappears with a flash of light, and I dust my hands off.
Aboard the copter I'm greeted by smiles and words of congratulations. They tell me I beat previous records by a half, as if I don't already know.
I smile, and thank them, but I'm grateful when they busy themselves with the medical tests. A needle in the arm, and a couple of tablets later I fall asleep.
When I awake I'm already in the quarantine bay, the bluish beams slowly running over me, reading for any trace of bacteria. I relax, the faint tingling sensation comforting.
Eventually it switches off, and beeps. Clean.
I rise and make my way to the doors, which slide silently open and I step through. On the other side is a fresh uniform, which I quickly slip into.
As I make my way to my room, I pass hundreds of whispering voices in the halls. Three weeks, they say, she beat Mako, and, it didn't even have the chance to flame. I feel their eyes on my back, and I shut them out.
I press my thumb onto the keypad next to my door, and it opens, welcoming me home. As it slides shut behind me, I sink down onto my bed, and pull up my screen.
Hundreds of congratulatory messages pop up, and I close them all. I'll deal with them later. Instead I pull up an old clip, from before I enlisted. I barely recognise the girl flying the kite anymore. Her once blonde curls bouncing around her face as she tries to run fast enough to keep it up. The laughter of the man holding the camera can be heard, my father, and my sister chanting.
"Run, run run."
If only they'd run. I miss them so much.
The screen beeped and sang. I wiped the tears that had started forming in my eyes away, and pressed answer. The face of Meg, one of my oldest friends appeared.
"I just saw your score!" She said, smiling. "Congratulations!"
"Thank you." I smile back. She was tall and thin, with gorgeous long, dark hair. Elegant, not the stocky warrior build like me, she's training in diplomacy, and I'm sure she'll be wonderful at it.
"How did you do it?" She asks, "how do you always do it?"
I shrug. I've tried explaining the way I think to her before, and she's never understood. I remember being told that people think in two different ways. There are those who think in straight line, the majority of society, and those who take two steps forward, and one to the side, like a chess knight. I've always classed myself as the second.
"Two steps forward, one to the side." I say, and she laughs.
"Have you spoken to Alec?"
I shake my head.
"He's still in the training room. He always is at this time. I'll talk to him later."
She raises an eyebrow.
"You'll want to get some sleep before then, if you're going to spend the night talking to your boyfriend."
I roll my eyes.
"Meg. You know full well that..."
"Yes, yes. I know." She interrupted, "You're just friends. La-de-da. It just that, you suit each other so well!"
I sigh, relieved when I hear a knock through the screen, and Meg looks away.
"I'm coming!" She calls, before turning back to me. "I've got to go, but I'll see you tomorrow. I want to know everything that happened out there."
"Goodbye." I smile, and she's gone. I wonder who was knocking, as I flick on my music. It vibrates through the walls and floor, and I leave it on as I turn on the shower. The quarantine system is good, but it doesn't get rid of the knots in my hair, or the mixed smells of moss and sweat. The feeling of hot water and soap on my bare skin is wondrous, and I let it pour down in torrents as I comb my hair, the detangled curls stretched by the weight of the water.
When I finally feel clean I switch the water off, and squeeze it out of my hair with a towel. I put my uniform back on, and leave my room.
When I reach the training rooms, I can hear the shouts from outside, and glancing through the glass panels on the doors, I see about twenty or so young men and women practising transformations. As I watch I see one particularly thin and pale looking girl, struggling with a simple five knife transformation, stagger and stumble, passing out. I smile, remembering those days, where I'd work until the pain overcame me and I collapsed, completing one exercise and immediately going onto the next. The girl's teammates lifted her up gently, and carried her towards me and the doors, which I pushed open for them. Their eyes widened as they caught sight of the code on my arm.
"Th-thank you ma'am." One of them stutters, and I smile.
"Don't worry about it. Just take her to bed." I nod toward the sleeping girl. "She needs a good nights sleep."
"Yes ma'am." They say, and scurry off, throwing the occasional glance back over their shoulders.
"You're becoming quite the celebrity." A voice behind me makes me turn.
"Alec!" I exclaim, hugging him tightly.
"I missed you." He says, stroking my hair. I look up at him.
"I missed you too."
"So, what's it like being the number one?" He asks, as he picks up his bag.
"You heard, then." I reply.
"Neive. Everybody's heard. You've been the talk of the base since word was received this morning of your return. Some thought you'd dropped out, but I knew better." He smiled. "Is it true it didn't even flame?" I nodded, and he laughed. "Of course it didn't! This is you we're talking about, you don't settle for anything less than perfect! Next you'll tell you came up with some new techniques while out there too."
His eyes sparkle, jokingly. I rub my fingers on the back of my neck, looking down.
"Actually." I say, and his eyebrows shoot up.
"What, really?" He asks incredulously. I nod. "I have to see this. Come, there are a couple of free rooms down the end of the hall. I can also show you what I've been working on."