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Randi Du vall Randi Du vall
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The Hunter

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She had a friend.

I wrote this for the September contest, but was unable to download it due to computer problems. I figured I would post it so as not to waste the effort.

      The University’s bells began tolling, loud, long, melancholy peals, announcing the end of the day’s first classes. Students filed out of the various buildings, their matching uniforms making them appear like an army of clones marching in time. Guards dressed in full riot gear were stationed across the campus, their job to enforce Law, without mercy, at all times. There was no speaking between classes, and no speaking of anything not pertaining to classes at anytime, Guards in the classrooms enforced Law there as well. Jay marched alongside the other students, just as quiet, and just as perfectly same.  In an explosion of sound and pain her life changed.
       Guards swung their guns into firing positions, looking around, trying to pinpoint exactly where the shot came from. Students, well trained from birth, fell to the ground, hands on their heads, non-threatening. No one moved to help Jay who lay writhing on the ground, bright red blood spreading over her pristine white uniform and pooling beneath her, still not making a sound. Guards swept through the campus, just barely stepping over the prone students and faculty. A few stood over Jay, nudged her with a booted foot and mumbled something into their radios before moving on.  Minutes ticked by before the medics marched smartly across the campus and, with quick, efficient movements, loaded Jay onto a stretcher and bundled her away, her chest barely moving.  
       Hunter watched the whole thing through binoculars, sneering at the little sheep trained so well the one he shot didn’t even cry out for help.  His rifle was already packed up, nestled in its case next to his other gear, two skinning knives and a bow with arrows, all of which were illegal and, if caught, any one would earn him the death penalty. Though he usually preferred the silent death of the bow this hunt needed to be done from a distance only a rifle could achieve. He didn’t want the girl to die, death wasn’t the goal of this hunt, but if she did, well, those purple clad sheep calling themselves medics should have arrived sooner.  Hunter watched long enough to ensure the Guards didn’t know where the shot came from before he grabbed his gear and walked to the edge of the building throwing it over the edge. He shucked his dull grey jumpsuit, designed to blend in with the dull grey rooftop, revealing the sheep’s everyday summer uniform, a black t-shirt and black loose cotton pants. Hunter despised the outfit, preferring his illegal jeans and a-shirt, but needed to fit in long enough to return home.  
       “Report.” The brusque command sounded in his ear and Hunter cringed as he entered the stairwell.
       “One down, critical, but not fatal so long as the sheep treat her. Little idiot didn’t even bleat for help,” he kept his voice low enough that the sound monitors wouldn’t alarm as he slowly made his way down the stairs.
       “Never gave them a chance. Nest was two miles out.”
       “How will they know it was us?”
       “I left them a clue in the bullet. Hunter out.”
       He flicked off his comm unit and paused before the door that led to the street. The sneer that appeared seemed to be automatic anytime he saw a sheep, and right now his reflection appeared like any other automaton that roamed outside that door. He ran a hand self-consciously over his close cropped ice blonde hair, feeling naked without the long braid he preferred when living in the wilderness, but, like everything else in this hell-pit of an Empire, hair length was strictly regulated. He growled at his reflection exposing sharp fangs that glistened in the fluorescent light. Those fangs were one of the few reasons he didn’t mind the Quiet Law, he could walk the streets without fear since it was illegal to speak to anyone outside of a building or vehicle that wasn’t family. Hunter had no family.
       He shook his head, pulling himself from his morbid thoughts and straightened his shoulders. He stared at his reflection, trying to match the way a sheep looked, shoulders slightly rounded, as if fearing a hit from above, eyes frantically searching without trying to draw attention, and arms loose at the sides fingers spread to show that he was unarmed. When he had the posture as perfect as he could make it, he opened the door and stepped into the bright light of day, disappearing into the flock.

       Jay opened her eyes slowly, squinting them against the bright fluorescent light that shone down on her. She turned her head from one side to the other, trying to identify where she was. The last thing she remembered was stepping out of the Physics building to go to her next class and then pain, as if someone had shoved a hot knife straight through her chest.
       No one had helped her. She remembered that. She had lain there, writhing in pain, not making a sound for fear of bringing a Guard down on her, and NO. ONE. HAD. HELPED. She had turned to the man laying on the ground not even a foot away, had reached out a hand, but he hadn’t even acknowledged her, just kept his face to the ground, his hands above his head. Still, she made no sound, not even when the Guard had kicked her before calling a medic. She had felt her body go cold, her limbs heavy, her last sight had been of the royal purple that only Medics were allowed to wear.
       “Patient 33705, alias, Jay Biology, bullet wound to the upper chest cavity, a precise shot, an inch in either direction would have caused the wound to be fatal. As it is, the bullet lodged just to the right of her heart, barely missing both lungs, causing severe blood loss.”
       Jay heard the dry recitation of the doctor and only barely made sense enough of it to realize that she was talking about HER! She had almost DIED! And this . . . person, who called herself a doctor, talked as if it were nothing more than an inconvenience to her day! Jay turned her head, trying to get a look at the woman who spoke so caustically about another person.
       “Doctor, the patient is awake,” another voice, off to Jay’s left spoke, this one male.
       A woman, hair bound in a tight bun, and dressed in navy blue scrubs identifying her as the doctor leaned over Jay. She raised a perfectly groomed eyebrow, eyeing Jay critically, “Patient, tell us exactly what you remember before you were shot.”
       “H-how long was I out?” Jay asked, her voice a hoarse croak.
       The doctor’s eyebrows drew down, “Four days. Now, answer my question.”
       “Please, need, something. Dr-drink?” Jay’s throat felt raw and abused, as if she had spent those four days screaming instead of lying unconscious.
       The doctor made an impatient sound and waved her hand, a male dressed in powder blue nurse clothes came over with a glass of water. He gingerly lifted Jay’s head up and allowed her to drink from the straw he held to her mouth. Jay sucked greedily, draining the glass in just a few swallows, the nurse laid her head back and Jay sighed in relief.
       “My question.”
       “I walked out of the Physics building, heading to my next class. That’s all I remember,” Jay said, feeling the weight of her injury and the medicine they were pumping into her try to pull her into oblivion again.
       “Is that all? You remember nothing else?” Why did the doctor sound like Jay was deliberately hiding something? Wasn’t she the victim? Shouldn’t they be telling her they are searching diligently for whoever shot her?
       “Nothing. I’m a good Citizen. Why did this happen to me?” Jay started breathing harder, panting, panic was seeping into her mind. “I followed Law, I did my part, I was studying to be a Doctor!”
       The Doctor nodded her head and Jay felt a prick in her arm, then, nothing.
       When she woke, the room was dark, no voices, no doctor staring at her in accusation. Jay stared at the ceiling’s white tile and thought about what had happened, trying to figure out why they thought she was hiding something.
       “I didn’t do anything. Why are they treating me like I did?”
       “Because the bullet had ‘Break From the Flock’ engraved on it.”
       Jay sat up, startled, and looked over to where the voice came from. There was a man sitting in the shadows by her bed, “Who are you? How do you know that?”
       The shadow man stood and walked closer to the bed, but Jay still couldn’t make out any of his features. He leaned down close to her ear, Jay let out a small whimper, and she felt his hot breath as he let out a humorless laugh, “Bleat, little sheep, you saw how much they cared when the bullet hit you. How long did it take them? Five, ten, minutes before they even bothered to call for the Purples?”
       Jay stared, horrified, as realization dawned on her, “Y-you’re with the terrorist group, Break, aren’t you?”
       The man straightened and, even in the dark, Jay could tell he was smiling, “You’re quick for a sheep.”
       “Stop calling me that!” Jay’s quiet demand only seemed to amuse the man even more.
       “Does it offend you? To be told the truth of what you are? You’ve gone through life following the Law, keeping your head down, your mouth shut, your hands open. You don’t even have a true name. You are one Jay among a billion others. Your last name is nothing more than a description of where you are in your life. So, tell me, Jay, what are you, if not a sheep, bleating along with the other sheep? You don’t question what they tell you to do, what they have always told you to do. So, who are you?”
       Jay opened her mouth, but couldn’t answer. Who was she? Her name was Jay Biology, but that didn’t mean anything. There were thirty other women named Jay Biology in her Sophomore class alone. Jay was simply one of the ten accepted names for female children, and Biology was the last name given her once she chose her major. Before that her last name had been that of her high-school, shared with the other thousand kids attending.

It was simply the way things were done, and had been done for more years than anyone could, or cared to, remember.
       Jay glared at the man, “Well, then who are you? If I’m a sheep, what does that make you? How are you any better when the people you follow go around shooting innocent people just to make a point? What gives them the right to disrupt lives with messages of hate?”
       “Hate? You don’t know what hate is. My people were damn near destroyed by your Empire! We were hunted like animals, rounded up, told that we were to be taken to a ‘special place’ just for our kind. That special place? A prison yard. Kept caged. We weren’t allowed to run, or to change, or to eat unless they fed us, or to drink unless they gave us water. Do you know what that is like? To be denied your very existence? I was born into that yard. Secretly. I was their hope. Am their hope. You don’t know hate, I was nursed on it, breathed it, force fed it every day. There are no innocents in the Empire. There are only sheep and their shepherds. What am I, little lamb? I am the wolf in sheep’s clothing, the monster in the dark, the secret that is hidden in shadows. As to who I am,” He leaned in close to Jay’s ear again and whispered, “I am the one who shot you.”
       Before she could even draw a breath, the curtains of her window fluttered and the man was gone. Jay’s heart beat frantically. The man who shot her was a myth made flesh. The Hunter in the Dark. A shape-shifter. A biological accident that the Empire had tried to eradicate. They thought they had succeeded, but, apparently, they were wrong. What did he want with her?

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