WIN THE RINGS
by K. D. Van Brunt
Jace has been the property of the U.S. Army since they found out about her when she was five, and now she has become one of its most valuable weapons. But Jace is not the only one of her kind. Gray is one too, but with the help of his sister, he has spent most of his sixteen years hiding from the Army.
Now, the Army has found out about Gray and they cannot allow him to roam free. Operating on the theory that it takes one to catch one, Jace is send out with a special ops squad to hunt Gray down. But Jace is not the only one pursuing Gray, and the competition is after her too. What ensues is a desperate chase through city after city as duty and honor collide with love and sacrifice.
I’m standing outside the boy’s lounge, out of sight, waiting for Max to signal to me. The dorms conveniently have two TV lounges, which long ago were apportioned one to the girls and one to the boys. Management allows us access to televisions, and all of us have requisitioned one for our rooms, but the channels are restricted—we only get ten. The reason for this, we think, is that ten channels are all management is capable of monitoring. We know they monitor the feeds because occasionally a particular channel will go dark for an hour, or maybe thirty seconds in the case of a commercial management finds offensive. Still, what TV we get is enough to give us a treasured window onto the outside world.
The TV lounges have rules. The boys—that would be Max—makes the rules for their lounge, and the girls—that would be me—make the rules for our lounge. One rule we have in common is that guys and girls can’t enter the other lounge without an invitation. The boys haven’t invited me into their lounge in years, not since Adelee and I led a group of girls on a surprise strike on their lounge one night, taking down a dozen or so of them. Hey, we had to do it; they hit us first and had it coming. Adelee was eighteen at the time, and little twelve-year-old me was her prodigy—God, she was tough as nails. She graduated a while back and I officially took over leadership of the girls, much to the carping and objections of some of the older girls.
I’m here with Carmen and Nessie, who are the closest thing I have to friends. Carmen and I have our issues, but she’s as protective of the girls as I am, so in dealing with the boys she always has my back. She’s a slender Asian girl with long, silky black hair that hangs almost to her waist, but her petite body is deceptive. She’s almost as fast as I am and totally lethal. Nessie, on the other hand, is a pouty little flirt whom I tolerate only because she’s Carmen’s lieutenant, and she fights hard.
I hear a cacophony of voices around the corner in the lounge along with some raucous laughter. Then I hear Max’s voice.
“Okay, settle down,” Max says. “Let’s get down to business.”
“You sure we can trust Max?” Carmen whispers to me.
“He’s a dirtbag,” Nessie snarls.
“Relax,” I say. “Let’s give him a chance.” In the back of my mind, a small voice tells me they’re right and that I’m an idiot to trust him, but I squelch it and stay put.
“We’ve got a special visitor tonight,” Max says to a now-quiet crowd. “She has safe passage. Anybody tries anything, you’ll wish you were dead.” More silence. “Jace, come in.”
I turn the corner and enter the lounge filled with boys sitting on couches, recliners and the floor, all with hatred in their eyes when they see me. Carmen and Nessie follow a step behind, one on either side of me. Immediately, a wave of hisses and boos erupt, and someone lobs handfuls of popcorn at me, until Max rushes over and kicks the bowl out of the guy’s arms sending an explosion of the white stuff into the air.
“Behave,” Max thunders.
The room goes silent again.
“I’m here to listen,” I say to the room full of hostile eyes. “So, let’s talk.”
Viraj Smith immediately shoots to his feet. His last name isn’t really Smith. I don’t know what it is. All of us are given new surnames when we arrive here, as if to reinforce the point that the old us is dead and cremated. Viraj is one of the brainiacs here—so nerdy and geeky that just the sight of him makes me struggle not to laugh. But, next to Max, he’s the best fighter among the guys, so I respect him for that.
“Jace, you can’t lock us out of the pool every time the girls want to swim,” Viraj says, his voice tense with anger.
“Yeah, Mason wants to see Brittany in her bikini,” someone shouts.
“Shut up,” another voice, presumably Mason, retorts.
“No,” Nessie says, cold fury in her eyes. “Someone drilled a peephole into the girls locker room.”
“Hand over the douchebag that did it,” I add, “and we’ll consider the request.”
“Ah, that was Roger,” Max answers. “He’s not a problem anymore.”
Roger was washed out of the program over a month ago, a fate all of us dread, since washed out is a euphemism for executed. Roger’s dead. He sucked at academics, sucked at fighting, and sucked at obeying the rules, so it was no surprise when he disappeared the day after Thanksgiving. Roger was a loser and nobody mourned his passage, which makes me wonder if the boys are simply pinning the blame on the conveniently dead Roger. I hesitate for a second, catching Carmen’s eye. She gives me an almost imperceptible nod.
“All right,” I say. “We can give it a try…that is, if you can behave yourselves.”
This is good. The girls have been pestering me for weeks to ease up about the pool, resentful that I restrict them to swimming at predetermined times that I can control. This will be one less friction point with them.
“Thank you,” Viraj says, returning to his seat.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
K.D. Van Brunt has been writing professionally his entire career and has published an extensive list of nonfiction works. Win the Rings is his first fiction book. When not writing, he reads and listens to audiobooks during his daily drive through the sea of gridlock that is commuting in and out of Washington, DC. A long time resident of Maryland, he can often be found tromping around the many civil war battle sites in the area. To find out more about K.D. Van Brunt, including bonus content relating to Win the Rings, check out his website—kdvanbrunt.com--and follow him on twitter-- @KDVanBrunt.
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