FIVE YEARS PRIOR
â€œKeep your concentration,â€ Esvera said, â€œbecome your target. You must be completely in tune with it. Even in the fraction of a second, hundreds of things can happen. You have to begin to predict if, between the moments that you pull the trigger and the bullet reaches its mark, if your target is going to move.â€
Esvera kneeled down to Q who was looking through the scope of a sniper rifle. Behind his sunglasses, Esvera could see that his eye was wide, watching his target, over five-hundred yards away. The human-sized cardboard cutout stood out behind the trees and foliage around it. Esvera laid down next to Q and picked up a pair of high-powered binoculars and watched the target.
â€œAnything six-hundred yards or further away, you aim for the center of the body, under that, you aim for the head,â€ Esvera continued, â€œYou must sync your breathing with your weapon. Breathing and firing must be one fluid movement. As if your rifle is an extension of your body. You breathe in, and breathe out. Focus on your target, breathe in, begin to put pressure on the trigger, breathe out and squeeze.â€BLAM!
The shot startled Esvera a bit. She hadnâ€™t expected him to actually fire right at that second. She glanced back into her binoculars at the target. A small bullet hole smoked from the top left-hand corner of the targetâ€™s head. Not a perfect shot, but a kill nonetheless.
Esvera looked over to Q and grinned. â€œVery good Q,â€ she said. Q looked back and gave a small grin himself. Esvera patted him on the back and got up. Dusting herself off, she turned to the small table beside her and began packing up.
â€œThat will be all for today,â€ she concluded, â€œyouâ€™ve been progressing very quickly. Soon youâ€™ll be ready for field work.â€
Q got up as well and began dismantling his rifle. When it was put away he followed his teacher back to the house.
â€œDoes it bother you?â€ Q asked Esvera when they had gotten back to the base.
â€œDoes what bother me Q?â€ Esvera questioned.
â€œYou know, knowing how you will most likely die?â€ Q continued.
Esvera smiled and patted Q on the head.
â€œQ,â€ she said slowly, â€œeveryone dies. I cannot think of a better way to die than protecting someone I care about. Unfortunately, this world is a dangerous place. Not everyone believes that killing should be a painful last resort. For all the killing Iâ€™ve done, itâ€™d be nice to save someone for a change.â€
â€œSo, you donâ€™t think itâ€™s scary?â€ Q asked.
â€œNo Q,â€ Esvera replied, â€œI think itâ€™s beautiful.â€
Esvera looked over at Q. He was fingering his limiter, a worried look on his face. Esvera shook her head and smiled.
â€œYou know Q, a lot of people have very powerful Rez. With training they learn to control them. Iâ€™m sure if you tried, you would be able to control yours as well,â€ Esvera said.
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Q said worriedly.
â€œIf youâ€™re so worried about the philosophical ramifications of wearing the limiter, then why donâ€™t you just take it off and learn to control it?â€ Esvera said, she reached over to remove the collar.
â€œNO!â€ Q cried and jumped away.
Esvera held her hands up in a non-aggressive way. â€œAlright, alright,â€ she said peacefully, â€œyou donâ€™t have to do it now. What is it that caused you to put the limiter on in the first place?â€
â€œWell,â€ Q said, slowly relaxing again, â€œthese two were giving me a hard time. It made me really angry. There was this flash of bright light and thenâ€¦ they were switched.â€
â€œSwitched? What do you mean?â€ Esvera asked.
â€œJust never mind,â€ Q said nervously. He jumped up and began to walk towards his room, â€œIâ€™m going to bed.â€
A few hours later, Esvera peeked into Qâ€™s room. He was asleep on his bed, his headphones on, music playing. Esvera shook her head. Those headphones were going to get him killed one of these days.
His blanket had been kicked away, and even though he was still wearing all of his clothes he seemed to be shivering. Esvera reached over and pulled the blanket back over him. She noticed that he still had the book she gave him in his hands. Gently, she reached over and picked it up, being careful to keep his spot in it. She was looking around for a bookmark when she happened to glance at the chapter he had been reading.
The Soul Stealer, Esvera thought as she read it. She noticed the chapter had been underlined with a pencil. Why would heâ€¦?
Esveraâ€™s eyes widened with realization and the book slipped from her fingers. It made a soft thud noise as it hit the ground. Switching people?
No, she thought, it canâ€™t be. Not him, not here.
Deep down, Esvera knew there was no other explanation. Quickly she withdrew her handgun from its holster. She pulled back the slide, chambering a round. She took two steps and pointed her gun at the sleeping Q.
â€œFor the good of the world,â€ she whispered and pulled back the hammer.
Esveraâ€™s hand shook, her breath became staggered. Tears began to fill her eyes and the image of the sleeping Q became warped. She pulled the gun back, releasing the hammer and slinked to the floor. She couldnâ€™t do it. Not her own student.