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Paragon

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Paragon
“Anna Dustin, Anna-Marie Dustin." The black haired woman repeated her own name again and again, believing that it would somehow give her strength. There were some moments, when her life, the whole world even, seemed redundant and meaningless. It was times like this when she tried, almost in vain, to remember a time before the world had changed completely. Moments and memories of a past life flickered at the back of her mind, like a tattered cloth; blowing in the wind.
Anna was very young, when the government announced they had made contact with extraterrestrials. They had picked up some type of signal. It was explained with some science hogwash that the general public had no hope of understanding. Not much changed at first. There were radio talk shows and news anchor showed and played the same newsreels over and over again . A few more people went around in cardboard signs saying the world “is going to end" but overall humanity wasn't really sure how to proceed. Contact had been made, but that was really all anyone knew. Everyone just accepted that the aliens were really peaceful like they claimed. The communications went on and slowly everyone got used to the idea of aliens.
The aliens, when they arrived, were like a gift from the cosmos. The aliens were so advanced that it seemed they had a solution for everything. The aliens said that they wanted to move to earth so that they could further our relationship and promote a learning environment full of growth and vigor. They began to move into places that were not heavily populated like Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, and Mongolia.. Humanity let them move into those places, after all it wasn’t like people were really using them. Plus, the aliens were probably only staying temporarily, right? Soon more aliens started arriving. They explained that their home planet was overcrowded so they were coming to earth for new opportunities and to help enlighten humans with new technology and ideas. Humanity welcomed their weapons and medicine. Even their religions seemed ingenious and new. The aliens brought new philosophical ways to look at the world that were completely unprecedented and amazing. Unfortunately humans had a problem. A mass epidemic was running rampant throughout humanity. It seemed the aliens had brought diseases from their home planet with them. The aliens were unaffected, because of their natural immunity, but humans were defenseless. Confusion spread through mankind. Weren't the aliens supposed to be helping the humans? The aliens were deeply apologetic and said that they were working on a vaccine. However more and more aliens came but the vaccine did not. They began to move into the cities, where the epidemic had wiped out whole populations. They made a large fuss about honoring the dead and putting up memorials. Talking and giving big speeches about how horrible this all was. However, all through that they began to expand and take up more land.
The aliens began moving the remaining humans into reservations. They shuttled humans many miles to the nearest reservation that the aliens had sat up. They said that the reservations would be like a vacation. The aliens were going to build new more advanced cities for humans to live in. The reservations were just a simple way to make the transition easier.

When the humans first got to the reservations, the facilities were marvelous and humans wondered at how lucky they were. Over time as more people got shuttled into them the conditions worsened slightly as over crowding took place. The people complained and the aliens apologized and said they would fix it. Nevertheless, as more people were shuttled in, there grew more and more complaints and gradually the aliens got slower and slower to responding to them. Humans grew slightly confused, but they knew that they should trust the aliens. The populations still grew and there began to be food shortages. There were skirmishes in the street over basic commodities, but they were few and far between. Overall though the humans were hungry, they knew this was all for their own good.

“What are you doing Anna?”
Anna stopped reciting her name and looked up at her younger sister. “Nothing Sophie. Need anything?”
“I’m hungry!” the little girl said sulkily.
“I know sweetie. We all are. Why don’t you drink some water? It will help.” This last month the food shortages had been particularly bad.
“I don’t like this water it tastes yucky! Plus I’m sick of drinking water!” Sophie cried, stomping her little foot.
“I’m sorry, but that’s all we have.” Anna felt empathy toward the child. They were all hungry. That was why she had to do well in the trials. The chosen five’s families gets a supply of food each month and the chosen one get to go onto the alien’s ship and act as ambassadors. Anna knew that getting chosen was hard, really, really, really, hard. In fact she had a next to none chance of getting chosen. Everyone from the age of fifteen to forty had to participate. In each reservation, five people were chosen. They were chosen based on proficiency in math, science, and writing; they were also chosen based on artistic and athletic talent. The top five from each reservation are never seen again, but their family got food. Getting chosen, though rare, was considered the best thing that could happen. The day of the test everyone had to report to the closest testing building. This year would be the sixth time Anna had taken the test. To accurately select the top five the aliens had made it mandatory that everyone from the age of thirteen to twenty-five get at least four hours of schooling a day. The aliens had set up schools run by teachers that had taught at former schools.
Anna had always gotten exceedingly high scores in the tests without trying; She was afraid of what would happen if she tried her hardest and was selected. This year was different. Anna was fed up of being hungry all the time. She wanted her sister to be able to eat regularly and to get some respect. She needed to be able to do something. This time she was going to apply herself. Anna had already surpassed her teachers in nearly all ways academically and for a time she was flummoxed on how to proceed with her learning. Thus, she searched and found books from the old world before aliens had invaded and studied those. Additionally, Anna found experts in fields where she was curious; who, she had heard, used to be called professors. She had a strict regimen of exercise for the athletic portion of the test. However, her low calorie intake from lack of food hindered her. Nevertheless, she trained everyday. When her father was alive he was an artist, so she was fairly well versed in basic art. Even though she was one of the smartest people she had ever met she knew that her being one of the top five the smartest out of the hundreds of thousands of people she would be going up against. Her peers began to look up to her, asking for her help to prepare for the test. She agreed, not wanting to be the reason someone failed. She soon noticed improvements in all aspects of her that would be tested, even other aspects like her leadership and teaching skills were improving. She was recognized by her community as a leader and soon many people looked to her for guidance. As Anna became a leader, her hatred for the aliens grew. She now felt the burden of the people who had begun to rely on her and in turn felt the effects of the aliens. She was unsure of what to do but felt that something must be done. Nevertheless, her plans had to wait as the test was fast approaching.
The day of the test everyone in the proper age group reported to the testing center. There was, like every year, an enormous mass of people. The aliens, to separate them, always had the people take tests by age group. While fifteen to twenty year olds took the math portion, the twenty to twenty-five year olds did the science, The twenty-five to thirty year olds did the writing portion, and so on and forth. That cycle repeated till every age group had completed all the test .
Anna was twenty-one; thus, she had the science portion first. Anna and the other twenty to twenty-five year olds were escorted into a large room with what looked like a couple thousand small cubicles. Each person found an empty one. Inside of them there was barely enough room for the one desk and chair that was there. Just as she sat down in the chair, a disembodied voice told her to reach into her desk and pull out the test and pencil that was inside it. Anna looked around the cubicle for the source of the voice. She noticed a camera and speaker in one corner. She imagined that they must have been there in order for the aliens to make sure they weren't cheating and to give them instructions. The speaker then announced that they would have an hour and a half to complete the test. Anna looked at the test and was glad she had taken time to prepare for the test. The questions were hard and she knew most people would have difficult time solving them. As she began solving them she became increasingly confident. In the end, it was the knowledge she had gained from what she had read in the books from the time before aliens that allowed her to prevail. She had just completed the second to last question of the test when the speaker announced they had ten minutes left. She quickly finished and checked her answers till she was satisfied she had done all she could. It then declared that they should put the test back in the desk and leave. As Anna made her way out through the cubicle she heard hushed whispers,
“My god I’m so screwed I didn’t even get three quarters done!”
“THREE QUARTERS? I didn’t finish HALF!”
Anna sighed. She didn’t want to see anyone fail but she supposed that her chances of getting picked were better this way.
The next three tests passed without incident and basically the same way. Again the information from the before times aided her. The math test she found was almost enjoyable as she was seldom challenged. The writing section was harder than the others and emotionally taxing. It had asked her to write a biography that focuses mostly on when the aliens invasion and a brief essay on what she hoped the future would hold. Anna was forced to recall her dead father and how almost everyone around her died. She worked on stoically and when she read them she was surprised at how good they were. In the art test they gave her a canvas, a sheet of paper, paint, pastels, and pencils. They gave no other directions then to begin. Anna tried capture the desolate city and the anger and rage of the people it housed. For the final test of athleticism they had her hook up herself to a group of wires. Then she was forced to run till she hurled, lift weights till her arms gave out, and swim till she almost drowned. At the end of the tests she was deeply weary and nervous. On one hand she wanted to get chosen. Not only would that mean that her family gets food but also that she could have some impact. On the other hand she didn’t want to get chosen. Becoming a leader had changed her in many ways. She now knew that she had the power to change things and make things better from the community. Thus, she was slightly relieved that the decision would be out of her hands.
A week later everyone reported back to their local testing center. Suspicion and resentment was at an all time high. Who would be chosen? Who would get the lowest one hundred scores? A large TV screen was at the front of the center. Anna ducked around people to try to get a good look. There were a list of all the names on the screen. The lowest one hundred scorers were at the bottom; the top five scorers were in bold at the top.
Anna scanned the list quickly and the froze. Anna’s entire world slowed down and came to a standstill. She felt like she was going to faint, hurl, and start laughing all at once. There, the second name in large block letters was written, “Anna-Marie Dustin”. Anna began to tremble slightly. People slowly began to whisper as they realized one of their own had been chosen. They started to crane their necks and search for her in the crowd. Anna felt paralyzed. All of her hard work had paid off. She should be happy. Shouldn’t she? Wasn’t she? Nonetheless, all she could think about was how the chosen ones were never seen again. This was what she had worked for but somehow the victory didn’t seem so sweet. Anna knew that being chosen meant she could do humanity good but at the same time she wasn’t sure she was ready to let go of her life yet. She might never get to see her family again. She thought back to her sister, Sophie. She might never see another of her birthday’s. Once somebody is chosen they never see their family. There was many rumors about what happened to the chosen ones. The official word from the aliens was that the chosen were ambassadors of humanity and traveled the cosmos solving inter galactic problems. Really, because none of the chosen ever came back, no one exactly knew what happened to them. Still, the fact that the chosen’s family gets food, and the lowest scorers die mysteriously were enough motive that the people tried to get chosen. Anna finally settled on a numb feeling. She walked home on unfeeling legs. Her sister took one look at her face and burst into tears.
“You've been chosen, haven't you?” Anna’s mom asked. Anna nodded mutely, unable to speak. Sophie rushed over and hugged Anna.
“Whats gonna happen?” Sophie questioned tearfully
“I dunno kiddo. I’m going to try and go help some people.”
“I DON’T WANT YOU TO GO!” Sophie exclaimed. Anna’s mom grasped Sophie to her side comfortingly.
“Honey, your sister is an extraordinary young woman and we love her. But are going to just have to let her go.” Anna’s mom said talking to Sophie trying to soothe her. “We have to let you go.” She whispered looking at Anna with tear’s of her own in her eyes.
That night the horrible knowledge that this was the last night Anna would spend with them hung over the family. In the morning she would have to go back to the testing shelters and get shuttled to where ever she was going. The family tried to fill the heart wrenching void with words and stories. They recounted memories of the before time, when everything was happy. Anna’s mom gave her what used to be her father’s favorite book. Sophie gave her a drawing of them together. They said their goodbyes. The finality seemed unreal.
The next morning they all walked to the testing center. Many people said goodbye to her, congratulating her. Anna felt happy. This is gonna be okay, im going to help people She thought to herself . The testing center was almost completely deserted. Only five people in the whole reservation had been chosen and she was the only one from her part. Anna hugged her mom and sister one last time before she walked into the testing hall for her eighth and final time. All but one of the cubicles were gone. There were only some slight differences from the ones Anna had taken the tests in. It was larger and was completely air tight. A door in it opened with a hiss. The voice from the tests called tinily, echoing across the giant room from a small speaker,
“Anna-Marie Dustin you are among the chosen. Please enter into the room and sit down.” Anna took a deep breath and made her way across the room. She paused slightly before going into the room, unsure. What was this? Finally she just forced herself into the room. Just as Anna stepped into the room the door closed behind her. A series of clicking noises told her that she was locked in. She gasped and turned around. What was happening? A large screen on one portion of the wall flickered to life, slightly illuminating the pitch black room. Facing the screen was a large chair. “Please sit” the voice again. Anna hesitated, wondering when was she going to be shuttled to where she was going. The voice spoke louder “please sit.” Anna sat.
As soon as anna’s back touched the seat, restraints came out of the seat and closed over her wrists, neck, legs, and torso, rendering her immobile. All she could do was stare at the slightly glowing screen. Words began to flicker across the screen and the robotic voice began to read aloud. “You are one of the five chosen ones from your district. One of the twenty-five from your continent. One of the one hundred and seventy-five from your entire planet. You may think you know why you are here. You may be right. You are gathered here based on your test scores. Each of you are the smartest, most creative, and talented that your planet has to offer. You are the paragon. We determined from every essay the potential risk factor you pose. We have done this because while we are much more technologically and culturally advanced, because of the great distance one has to travel to get to your planet our population is minimal. With your numbers if humanity united we would be overthrown. But there is one thing you can’t have a revolution without; leaders. You need leaders to unite. Thats what you are. You are the best and brightest and it is the natural order that you should lead the rest of your species. Without the paragon, humanity can never rise against us. That is why we have the trials each year. That why we will always have the trials.” The screen became blood red and she heard a slight hissing noise as noxious gas filled the room . The voice spoke one last time, “Thats why you have to die.”
As Anna choked on the foul smelling gas she felt herself slip into a terminal sleep, she struggled to remain conscious. It was an uphill battle and she just barely managed to gasp out “Why?!”
However, that answer never came for the screen had already faded to black.




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