Here's this week's challenge from Flash Fiction Friday.
Four more days until her life was over. At midnight on her sixteenth birthday.
Sarah sighed. Once she entered The Game, her current life would be gone. There, with all her peers, she'd go through a series of physical and mental challenges designed to determine what career best suited her, for the rest of her life. No more big parties, lazing on the beach, playing video games all night. She’d already sorted out her belongings, as she could be sent to work anywhere on Earth, or even off-planet, so had to be prepared. She'd always been a smart kid, kept herself fit, and loved being adventurous, so she was confident she’d do very well. She'd heard that high scores meant a top position, and some great perks.
She was about to log off the house system when there was a chime. She had a message. As she expected, it was a reminder of her invitation to The Game. There was another chime—a message for her little brother Mark. Well, little in that he was a year younger. He was also six inches taller and thirty pounds heavier, and fiercely protective of his older sister. Which was kind of cute. He’d been checking constantly for messages—for a summer job application he claimed. She’s found his password earlier, in the back of his notebook, so decided it would be harmless to just take a peek. It was an invitation, just like hers, for The Game. But a year too early. There had to be a mistake. There was the date, the same birthday as hers. Did the system think they were twins? She saved the message in her folder and sent a note to one of her hacker friends. She’d have to investigate further, rather than letting Mark worry.
She jumped as the front door slammed. “Is that you, Mark?”
“Hey Sarah,” he said. “Yup, just me. Any messages?”
She smiled. “Just my invitation, to The Game, that’s all. Pretty cool, eh?”
But Mark wasn’t smiling. “I’ve heard it can be pretty tough. Especially the physical challenges. Too bad your little brother couldn’t be there to help you.”
“Your turn will come,” she said. “Look I’m a big girl now, I’m pretty good at looking after myself.” She reached over and tousled his hair.
It wasn’t until the next day that Sarah’s friend got back to her. “Looks like the system was hacked,” he said. “Hopefully it will be easy to fix. And to find out who did this.”
Sarah was looking forward to her birthday, and The Game, but Mark seemed more and more upset. “Relax,” she said, “I’m the one that’s going, not you. And I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
On her birthday, he must have checked for messaged every half hour. “Mark, Are you sure it’s a job application you’re waiting for, and not a girlfriend?”
He shook his head. “No, it’s more than that. Sarah, I --”
“Just a sec,” she said. “It’s my friend. He was checking for something.”
She listened to her friend with growing alarm. She thought he was making it all up but he assured him it was true.
She hung up, the retrieved Mark’s invitation for the system. “Here, little brother, looking for this?”
Mark peered at the message, and smiled. “Hey great, we’ll be together. Must be a glitch in the system. But all for the better, eh?”
Sarah glared at her brother. “A glitch? Bullshit. The files were hacked. And from this system, with your ID. And they can’t be changed back.” She rubbed at her eyes. “Jeez, little brother , what have you done?”
“But I did it for you--”
“I don’t need you, please let me be. Get out.”
That night, at midnight, they both presented themselves at the terminal. They were quickly scanned, processed, and driven to the site of The Game. As it turned out they were assigned to different dorms, so she was on her own after all. The first few days were grueling. When they weren’t on forced marches, with backpack and boots, they were in class, studying project management and psychology and leadership skills. Plus topics from their games, like map reading and weapons. By week two it all came together, when they were bused out to a nearby forest and handed weapons. The guns just fired paintballs, but were way more sophisticated than any she’d seen before. They even fired something called a SmartRound, that hit wherever you were looking, even if it was moving, even if it ducked behind something. She and Mark both seemed to have a knack for it, and were soon squad leaders, Within another two weeks, after success both in the classroom and in the field, they had risen to the top of their squad.
And then they found out the real meaning of The Game. A few years ago, mankind had discovered a huge fleet, heading through the galaxy. It had already passed the farthest human colonies, and it was assumed had obliterated them. So Earth need to build a fleet of their own and find, somewhere in their peaceful and comfortable population, enough people to take that fleet into battle. And hence The Game. It did serve as a career planner for most of the teenagers, but the cream of the crop were destined for bigger things. The Commander was pretty persuasive, so almost everyone – Mark and Sarah included – signed up.
The next day they were issued new weapons, bigger, high tech looking “Same controls on these,” said the sergeant. “You’ll be in bigger squads too. Remember, you’re training for a real war, so don’t be defensive. Be aggressive, with a bit of caution Use your team mates wisely. Sarah, you’ll lead squad Alpha. You’ll be against Gamma—I think your friend Mark is leading it.”
Once they started Sarah checked the maps, deployed her scouts and flankers, and headed toward the objective. The battle went well until the guy next to her was hit, And with more than a paintball, as his head literally exploded. She stopped, frozen, until her sergeant’s voice yelled in her ear. “This is a live fire exercise. Soon you will be fighting a real battle, against real aliens. Do not falter, or you will die.” There was a burst of fire into the ground right behind her. “Now move.”
Sarah checked her weapon, crouched, and moved forward. She had to find her brother before someone else did.