I thought of this story one day when I read an article about Soviet Army women sharpshooters from World War II who were called The Witches.
It was graduation day. Katarina had spent the last year in training for this moment and now it was here. The graduation was secret, as was her training. No one must know about the mission she had volunteered to assume. She and the other women in her training squadron checked their appearance one more time then lined up in alphabetical order to march single file to the auditorium.
They were the last fourteen of a class that had started with one hundred young women aged sixteen to twenty-five. They marched down the corridor from their dorm, the only voice was the woman at the head of the line giving orders for the turns. They made those turns with precision, just as they had completed their assignments. The final exam was the real test, of course. Six of the young women who had made it this far in their training failed that last test.
Katarina was in the middle of the group of fourteen. They marched out onto the stage, made a left face upon command of the first young woman, and held her head high, eyes forward. She could see a handful of people in the audience. The Forces Commander was there, as was the Chairman of the Department of Homeland Security. The Base Commandant and the Cadre Training Sergeant were on the stage with the women, standing at a podium.
After a few introductory remarks, the Commandant nodded to the Training Sergeant who pressed a button on the remote for the holographic projector. There, between the graduates and the dignitaries, was the record of each recruit’s final exam.
Each one of them had been given a different target. Katarina knew better than to reveal any emotion as she watched the tests of her friends. They had pledged themselves to each other, calling themselves The Fourteen, last night as the vodka flowed freely in the rec room. Each of her friends had been given just as difficult a target as she had. When her recording was played she began to sweat, heart rate racing. It felt just as if she were back there. Katarina had been allowed two weeks planning time, budget to scope out the site, and a case handler, just as for a real mission. She remembered the smell of jasmine in the night air from where she waited for her target. The shot was a long one, the limit of the weapon’s beam range, but the humidity in the air and the fact that there was no breeze made her believe the shot could be made.
Mosquito’s buzzed her head, attracted to the carbon dioxide she released from deep, slow breaths. She remembered telling herself to slow her heart rate, relax her muscles, rest her eyes. There would only be one chance. Even if she managed to escape it would be useless if she missed her target. She would be denied graduation and be sent back to the regular ranks, cannon fodder for the rebel front lines.
As she watched the recording play out she remembered watching the delegation’s air cars land on the roof of the building down the street. The men on the roof moved toward the air car, lining up on either side of a red carpet. The city’s mayor was at the car’s door, opening it, bowing as the War Lord descended the air car’s two steps. The rooftop was lit clear as day as Katarina peered through her scope. She took a final, relaxing breath and placed her finger on the trigger.
The crosshairs fell on the War Lord’s cranium. She had a perfect view of the side of the orange-scales that decorated the side of its gold-skinned head. The creatures all had them, right over where their brains resided inside of their skulls. The War Lord stopped to say something to the Mayor, still bowed. She applied just enough pressure to fire her weapon without any jerk that would throw off the beam.
It took a moment before she could see if she hit it. The tracking ionization for the beam had been disabled so it couldn’t be seen. Through the scope she could see the creature’s head explode, brain, skin and bone showered the Mayor. The War Lord’s body guards surrounded their leader scanning in every direction for where the shot had come from but it was too late. Katarina wrapped her weapon in rags, stuffed the rifle in her bag and hurried from her rooftop position. On the street she looked like any of the thousands of human women combing the refuse piles for food or tradable debris.
Katarina barely saw the rest of the recordings she was so lost in her own memory of the satisfaction she’d had at killing the War Lord. The Training Sergeant called them to right face. Her body obeyed automatically. The Commandant took the podium.
“We are here today to congratulate these recruits for surviving the rigorous training program of the last year. Of the one-hundred young women who started, thirty-seven died in training. Twenty-three were medically discharged from injuries and the remainder washed out of the program or resigned. These are the best assassins in their class. Congratulations, soldiers.” The dignitaries stood and applauded as did the Commandant and the Training Sergeant.
Their names were called one by one, a sharp-shooter medal was pinned to their chests, a photo shaking hands as they received their diploma was taken and they returned to their place. Neither the medal nor the photo could be shown to anyone outside their particular service.
The Commandant spoke one last time. “Gentlemen, I give you the newest class of The Vipers. Glory to the Human Race, may the aliens be destroyed soon.” The applause was sweet in Katarina’s ears.
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