This is a follow-up to Her Darkest Hour. Don't be fooled by the first chapter, it will have the same dark tone of the other fanfics of this series.
The transport parked in front of the large steel gates of a very large building complex, surrounded by concrete and steel walls. At the gates, there were two turnstiles with biometric electronic devices to identify people who entered the building. At the counter, two Polezi robots stood ready, just in case. The robots were partly responsible for the security of the military camp. They were quite common in Palma, but combat robots were rare on Motavia. People from Motavia were used to common robotic systems, but only the largest cities could afford combat androids. Besides, the central government on Palma, mostly ruled by Mother Brain decisions, did not allow Motavia to have a large military force, fearing rebellion. That is why crime was so widespread in Motavian poorest cities. And because of that, most people, like Anna, were unaware of the combat androids existence.
Anna was amazed. She had never seen such advanced electronic devices and that was just the security system at the gates of the building. Her former village was rather poor compared to Zema and, though the environment was fully controlled by computers, automated devices were not a reality in common people's lives. In Zema, everything was different: all the buildings were modern, the streets and sidewalks clean and neatly arranged by robots. Many electronic and robotic devices were installed everywhere, doing basic and complex tasks. Cars and scooters were all-automatic. There were no signs of masonry buildings; all the buildings were made by steel, synthetic polymers, concrete and other high tech materials. It was like Anna had lived in a medieval city and was being taken to an advanced civilization. Her hopes would be that her life would change as well, though she knew she would never forget her tragic past. She could not stop remembering the night when her parents, sisters and brother were murdered. But, as long as she lived, she would never be able to forget that anyway.
“We have arrived, I hope you have enjoyed the ride.” said the conductor. “Colonel Numar, I hope you were not bored by the trip. I know you are accustomed to use the teleport, but as you insisted in coming with the girl, I hope the trip was not so dull.”
“Don't worry, officer, it was not so bad. By the way, our friend here is not bored at all. Are you, Anna?”
“Uh, oh, excuse-me, sir, I was so fascinated with all those things I've never seen before that I didn't listen to you.” Anna shouted, startled.
“Oh, don't worry, it wasn't important.” He turned to the conductor, chuckling. “See?”. Turning to Anna again. “Pick up your things, let's go.”.
Anna hurriedly picked up her things, thanked the conductor with a shy smile and walked towards the gates of the building, always a step behind the colonel, as if she needed his protection from the building. In fact she wanted some sort of protection from the world. She was still just a girl, thirteen, with no one to trust, no experience. After her parents were killed, she lived by herself, but she wished to be protected from the dangers of life, not to deal directly with them. If she managed to survive, it was by doing things out of despair, killing people as a result. She didn't want those things to happen anymore. As they arrived at the gates, the colonel gave room to Anna pass before him.
“Anna, please, stay on the yellow pad on the floor, so the equipments will identify you.”
Anna cautiously stepped on the yellow pad. After some seconds, several electronic devices automatically adjusted to her position in order to scan her iris and make other biometric measurements. They scared her a bit, but she was ashamed to show her embarrassment with the modern electronic devices, so she stood firmly, swallowing her fear. After some seconds, an alarm rung out loud and the two Polezi robots immediately got ready, one blocking the passage and the other pointed a gun to Anna. Anna let out a loud scream of fear and crouched, with her hands trying to protect her head. “Oh, my God, they discovered my crimes. They'll kill me, they will arrest me!”
She was deadly scared and she had reasons for that, as she had already murdered two men in the past and she feared her crimes would be discovered sooner or later.
“Damn!” Colonel Numar took a card from his pocket and inserted in a panel on the turnstile. In two seconds or so, that seemed to Anna like ages, the alarm stopped and the Polezi stopped pointing the gun to Anna. It returned to the original position, while the other Polezi presented the reasons of the alarm. “Invalid data. Anna Zirski's profile age is 16, but her actual age is 13. Possible fraud detected.”
“Oh, sorry, Anna, I didn't know that the security level was so high. I'll have to get someone to hack the data.”
“Is it safe for me to enter?” Anna, still afraid, replied with a faint voice, while slowly standing up again.
“I think so.” His tone did not transpire the confidence Anna was expecting.
Colonel Numar inserted some commands on the panel and the robot left its place, leaving the way open for Anna. She was a bit unsure whether she should risk entering the training camp, fearing for her life. With a reassuring expression from the Colonel, she carefully passed through the turnstile and started walking slowly into the pathway that lead to the main buildings of the complex, always keeping an wary eye on the robots.
Colonel Numar crossed the gates too and was following Anna closely. Suddenly, one of the Polezis made a click. Anna started running as fast as she could, screaming “Help! Help!”, attracting the attention of every person nearby, till the robots were out of her sight. The colonel couldn't prevent laughing from the despair of the girl, as the robots were standing still in their places.
After this disastrous start, Colonel Numar reassured Anna the robots would not chase her again. He then took her to a room into the main building, where another officer would be waiting for them. Anna, still nervous, tried to calm herself by observing the interior of the building. It was also very automated, with electronic devices and machines in many places. The air inside the building was refreshing and clean. The furniture was very modern and functional. Some marble vases decorated the corners of the large corridors, providing a natural contrast to the futuristic building. Anna felt at ease. Though she was not sure of what she was to expect and she knew her short future, and maybe her whole destiny, would be sealed there, it was much better than living in the dirty slums, amongst the dredges of the society, being mistaken for a hooker, fearing for her life every day and every night.
Colonel Numar left her seated on the waiting room and went to attend some business. Anna stayed watching workers come and go. Some of them used military suits, some of them used civilian clothes. Anna was still unsure what Colonel Numar had in mind. Most probably he would use her as an assistant or a maid, not really an officer, at least for now. She was sure he had only taken her out of pity, because of Jake´s insistence, and she was glad for that. Anything would be better than to keep on living in the slums, doing illegal work, being constantly harassed. For the second time she had lost everything. For the second time she was to restart her life from the scratch. She knew it wouldn't be easy, but everything she longed for was to have some peace, so she could seek a new beginning for her tormented life.
After more than one hour waiting, the girl was bored. She had already checked her things many times, just to make the wait not so boring, but then she was bored of checking her things over and over again. Finally, after much waiting, one of the secretaries called her and guided her to the door of one of the offices. There, she was taken inside the office by another secretary. Her first impression was that her conversation would be very serious. Everything inside the office was in order. There were no papers out of place, no personal belongings left on the furniture, the chairs correctly positioned on their proper places. The room was clean and tidy, the decoration was frugal, the furniture perfectly positioned. The room was completely noiseless and had no particular smell. The officer behind the desk had a serious expression in his face. His suit was impeccable and bore dozens of medals, signaling he must be a great authority. Anna didn't understand anything about military ranks and its meanings, but she was sure the man should be very powerful inside the military.
“Please, Ms. Zirski, come in. Leave your things in the corner and take a seat.” The deep bass hoarse voice of the officer startled the girl, who blushed.
Anna shyly nodded, dropped her belongings in the corner and walked to the chair, avoiding eye contact with the man. She was engulfed by the large chair and cowered in its back, looking down and waiting for further instructions.
“I was reading your record, Ms. Zirski. Looks like Colonel Numar had indicated you to enroll the officer academy.”
“Offi..fi.. cers... aca...ca...demy?” Anna was really surprised. She never thought she would be assigned to the officer academy immediately.
“Yes, that is what is written here.” The officer pointed to the datapad screen. Then, he pressed a button on an electronic device. “Ms. Krusleva? Please, send Colonel Numar to my office.”
A period of silence ensured. It was as if Anna was not present on the room. She cowered further in fear. She was feeling an unusual anxiety, her hands were sweating, she was lightly shivering. In her mind, many thoughts made her feel confused. She had never seriously though of being a military officer. In all her teenage dreams, she always considered of having a career more traditional to women, probably linked to arts. To become a soldier was something she had never thought about, though thinking better, maybe she was fit to the job. She had become a cold-blooded woman, who could kill without feeling remorse. No, she felt a lot of remorse, it was almost unbearable. She prayed constantly, asking for forgiveness. The images of her murders were recurring nightmares on her mind, along with the images of her family being murdered. But, if it was possible to use her job to save lives, to protect the weak from abuse, to end conflicts, she would gladly take the military job. She'd prefer some civilian strategic-related position, like a guardian, but she didn't know how it worked on military to become a guardian, so she resigned to become an officer. With those higher spirits, she decided to face whatever her fate, on the behalf of Colonel Numar, had reserved for her.
After a couple of minutes or so, time enough for Anna to think, to get anxious, to get more anxious, to almost panic, the colonel stepped into the room. The officer had stood up and was walking in circles while he waited for the colonel to arrive. The colonel greeted his superior with the proper salute and then was invited to enter the room. The conversation that followed left an awkward feeling in Anna. It was hard to see the two strangers discussing her future while she was unable to do anything but listening and praying for a positive outcome.
“Colonel Numar, so you have indicated Ms. Zirski to join the military academy... is it right?” The tone of the officer made Anna frightened.
“From what I see here, she has no one responsible for her. No parents, no relatives. She also doesn't have money to pay for any of the private courses, so I'm guessing you are advising me to enroll her on the officer academy.”
An aura of tension filled the air. Anna cowered further on her chair.
“Well, the military life is not easy, colonel. From what I've read in her record, she has no prior training and no skills that indicate she would be a good soldier or officer. She is not studying anymore...” The officer cleared his throat. “You know, colonel, it is very unusual for a girl to apply to the military. Her life will not be easy, she will have to endure not only the hardships of the military training but also the constant harassment by the other trainees. We don´t train people to fail, so it is better that your little friend over there is really strong enough to endure the hardships of military training. She wouldn't want to know what it is to fail on military training.”
The officer's last words made Anna panic. If she could, she would run away from that place immediately. She trusted Colonel Numar to sort out the situation for her, but, by looking at his face, his countenance betrayed anxiety. He was sweating. Anna had looked at him seeking reassurance, but ended panicking even further.
“I know, Sir. I´m sure she will be able to endure the military training and succeed in becoming an officer.” The colonel´s voice betrayed doubt.
“Alright.” The officer didn't seem to be satisfied. "You know very well, as the director of the academy, that the cost to train one officer is very high. I'd not like to see our valuable military resources spent in someone who will not make it. We are already upset that many of the officers you graduate here are quitting the military for greener pastures in private security business. Are you sure she can make it?"
"Yes, I am, Sir." The colonel pretended to be confident, though he doubted his own words.
"There is something else. This girl is an orphan, so she should be tutored by the state. You are not her legal tutor, so, in theory, I should not allow her in, unless I had received strict permission to enroll her in the academy. Do you know that what you are trying to do is illegal, do you, Colonel Numar?"
"Yes, I'm aware of that, sir."
"Well, Colonel Numar, this is a very delicate situation..." The officer seemed uneasy. "You know I trust you and I trust your good-judgment. I usually dismiss all the recommendations I receive because mostly are old officers trying to get a good education for their lazy sons. Your case is different, I know. I'm sure you don't have any secret agenda, any hidden interests in this girl here. At least I hope so. But, the truth is, do you really think she has what it takes to be an officer?"
"To be frank, General, I don't know. I think you should ask her." The colonel frowned. He had lost the hopes of helping the girl. He couldn't do anything against the general. Though he was the academy director, it was not up to him to decide who could and who couldn't join the military.
"Ms. Zirski..." The general turned to the girl, calmly, holding his hands on his back. "Why do you want to join the military?"
"We.. well..." Anna's voice was shaken. "Your... Highness... Excellence..."
"Just sir, please."
"Sir..." Anna was so anxious that she thought she'd be unable to speak. "I... I think I can... help people... seek peace... serve the planet..."
"Hm!" The general emitted the sigh to assure her he was listening.
"I know I may lose my life... It will be dangerous... but I think I am ready to put... the people's interests... over my own..."
"I... I don't have anything left... I just... want to make... my life worthy of living... so I'm here to give myself... completely... to help all people living... in Motavia. I will do my best..."
Anna released a deep sigh. It had been too much for her, she just couldn't say a word more than what she had already said. The general had resumed walking to and fro, slowly, while thinking. Anna closed her eyes and cowered even further. She had taken a glance at the Colonel, but his face betrayed that he had almost no hopes that she would be accepted. That would mean she would be sent back. That meant she would be thrown on the streets again. That meant she'd be either arrested for her crimes or murdered by angry gang lords seeking vengeance. That meant that, even in the unlikely case that she went unharmed, she would have no hopes, no future. She'd be back to the slums. She'd have to seek illegal jobs. She would, most likely turn to crime or prostitution. Or she'd commit suicide. There was no hope.
"Very well, Ms. Zirski..." The general's voice was calm. "Very well... girl..." The pauses only increased Anna's anxiety. "I personally don't have anything against her, Colonel. The only problem I see is that she is just thirteen..."
The colonel was shocked by the revelation. His face went pale. He knew he had faked her data and he didn't expect that the general or the officer who would be in charge would check her info so soon.
"You know that we only admit people over 16. She just can't be accepted, Colonel Numar." The general had lost his usual coolness. He was somewhat angry.
"You have faked her record. Colonel Numar, it is illegal and you know that!"
"It was the only way..." The colonel was embarrassed.
The general just shook his head, staring at the colonel in a way he could show all his displeasure with the colonel's wrongdoings. He seated on the chair, took the e-paper that was lying in front of him, signed it and handed to Anna, while staring at the colonel with a disapproval look. "Sign the blank line, please, Ms. Zirski."
"What?" Anna was astonished. She had watched the last scenes develop as if they were in slow motion. It was a surreal scene, each moment it was as if the castles she had built in the air were collapsing, her dreams being shattered. The terrifying images from her past came together, all at once. It was so much for her that she entered in a kind of trance. She would not be able to remember those moments in the future. She automatically signed the e-paper, without reading, not caring if it was an important document or not. If she was signing a confession for the most horrific crimes, signing in to be experimented on crazy medical experiments or signing a paper forfeiting her life, she didn't care. Her mind was so confused that she just wanted to get out of there. She returned the paper to general. The general stamped it with an official biometric stamp and saved the document.
"Ms. Anna Zirski. Welcome to the military academy.” The general's tone was very cold, not inviting at all. The colonel released a loud sigh of relief.
“Tha... thanks... excellence...” Anna was unable to speak.
The general pressed a button on the electronic device. “Ms. Krusleva? We have a new officer academy student. Yes... the girl. Provide her a room. Thanks.” Then, he turned to the girl again. “That is it. The secretaries will show you the way to your room.” And then turning to Colonel Numar. “Colonel Numar, her presence here is your responsibility. I´ll take her, but be sure that if anything goes wrong, the blame will fall on you, as the academy director. It is an absurd to accept a thirteen here, but I'll give you the credit for your spotless record.”
“Thank you very much, General.” He closed his distance to the general, in order to make Anna unable to listen to him. “Talking about things going wrong, you know, she is a girl and we have very few girls here. You know, I´m not saying that it is dangerous, but in the past...”
“Rest assured, Colonel Numar.” The general interrupted the colonel briskly. “Though you should know better, as you are the director, I know you spend more time out of here than here. Though, we will never let such things happen here. They potential offenders would lose an important part of their anatomy before they could even think in something doing like that.” The general's tone was dismissive.
“You don´t know how to thank you, General Skarlopoff.” The colonel grinned.
“You should be ashamed of your illegal acts, colonel. But now it is done. Well... you are dismissed now.”
Colonel Numar saluted the general. He looked at Anna, who was still confused after the last events. She looked at the colonel and noticed his hints that she should do the same as him. She stood up in a hurry, almost causing the chair she was in to tumble. Embarrassed, she saluted the general, while her cheeks became red. The general dismissed them again with a wave of hands. Anna ran to her belongings and caught them. In her mind, she thanked God greatly, for giving her a new chance. She knew it would not be easy. She knew it was not exactly the thing she always dreamed of. She knew it could become dangerous. She knew she was not fit to the task and that she'd have to work a lot to do in order to meet up the expectations. She had a bad feeling over all that because she knew the two strangers were doing illegal things in order to help her. She wondered if she really deserved to be helped, as she was a sinner, a murderer. She still feared that one day they would discover her crimes and send her immediately to jail. She feared she would lose everything once again, as her life was an endless stream of new hopes, suffering and deception, new hopes, suffering and deception. Somehow, she still feared that the general had not accepted her application and was acting as if he did just to avoid her breaking down in tears in front of him.
As she was leaving the room, Colonel Numar tapped her lightly on the shoulder and welcomed her with a big smile on her face. “Welcome, cadet Zirski. I´m proud to have you in Motavian Military Academy!” Anna looked at him and smiled a sweet smile, a smile that was something rare in the poor girl´s face.
As she was stepping out of the general's office, she looked back, out of curiosity. The general was staring at a random spot, lost in his thoughts. She didn't expect that he would turn his face to her. She felt a sudden chill down her spine, wondering if the man would give a reprimand on her or say anything else, but he just waved his hand at her. She waved back and left, feeling a strong joy she had not felt for years. She knew her life would be hard. She knew she'd have to work a lot. She knew she would have to settle with a job that was not her choice, but the only dignified alternative life had presented to her. She still felt a deep solitude. She still wanted to avoid human contact. She still wanted to hide in her shell, to not suffer anymore. The images of her parents, brother and sisters being murdered were still in her mind. She missed them all dearly. Even so, now she had reasons enough to rejoice and thank her God. “Thanks, God. Thanks for trusting in your poor wretched daughter. Thanks for not forsaking a terrible sinner. Thanks for giving me a chance to redeem myself from my errors. Thanks for giving to my life a new beginning.”