The Culling (The Culling #1)
By: Ramona Finn
Publisher: Relay Publishing
Publication Date: November 8th, 2017
What happens to a girl trained as a executioner, who finds out her life is a lie?
In a solar system where The Authority decides who lives and who dies, only one of their own executioners can stop them.
Glade Io is a trained killer. Marked at a young age as an individual with violent tendencies, she was taken from her family and groomed to be a Datapoint—a biotech-enabled analyst who carries out the Culling. She is designed to identify and destroy any potential humans that threaten the colonies: those marked as lawbreakers, unproductive or sick. But when she’s kidnapped by rogue colonists known as the Ferrymen, everything Glade thinks she knows about the colonies, and The Authority that runs them, collapses into doubt.
Pulled between two opposing sides, and with her family’s lives hanging in the balance, Glade is unsure of who to trust—and time is running out.
I’ve always hated hide-and-seek.
But if you had to play it, like I did right now, so much better to be the hunter than the hunted.
I cracked my knuckles in front of me as I stepped into the simulator, and the door slammed behind me. I was instantly plunged into darkness – a blunt darkness, as can only happen indoors. Two points of light opened up in front of me, one on the left and one on the right.
I bared my teeth in a feral grin as my eyes bounced from one point of light to the other. They were throwing two colonies at me at once. I waited, tense and ready, as both points of light started spiraling open, focusing. They were forming not just into images, but into my new reality.
Within seconds, I was straddling the line between two worlds. I could see the images with my eyes, but when I closed them, I could see the images projected across my brain, as well. The computer implanted in my arm and head was cool like that. There was almost nothing I couldn’t do with it.
I scanned the two landscapes on either side of me. Glacially icy on one side, offering all the blues and grays of an icy planet. And on the other side, the black sky met the umber sand of a red planet. I looked back and forth between them. Two colonies at once. I knew it was just a simulation, but still, a bead of sweat rolled down my back as I planted my feet on the floor of the simulator.
Come out, come out, little citizens.
Using my computer, my integrated tech, I zoomed in on the icy landscape first. I felt the frigid wind, the brisk scent of ozone filling my nostrils, and soon I was close enough to see the roofs of dwellings. And yup. There the people were. I ignored the heavy furs that covered all but their eyes. I ignored their varying heights and weights. I ignored the way some of them held hands or rode on one another’s backs. I ignored the laughter that rang out from a group of citizens who had to be just about my age. I ignored the familiar admonishing tone of a mother at her wit’s end. The only thing I saw were the reddish glows that emanated from each person’s brainwaves.
The integrated tech computer that had been implanted when I’d been chosen for this job was designed to detect brain patterns. The computer in my brain could see other people’s brainwaves, and it presented the information in a way that allowed my eyes to see it, too. It had taken a long time to get used to it. But now it was almost like second nature. I let the reddish blurs around each person’s head remain just that – blurry.
Shifting my attention to the red planet now, I gave my eyes a second to adjust from the blinding white of the ice planet to the burnished, sunburned bake of the second colony. The black sky was a rich dark, the kind of black that had depth. With the Milky Way splashed across the skyroof of the red planet, I gave my eyes a second to adjust as my tech zoomed in on the colony, the red planet rushing past in my periphery. Soon we were there. The thick canvas tents that the citizens used as dwellings flapped in the constant, stinging wind. Each person wore white garments to reflect heat, but they were all dyed a deep, dusty pink from the red sand being flung in every direction.
This was a busier colony than the ice planet. People bustled past one another, balancing baskets of wares on their heads. The streets were narrow and craggy, lined with red rock walls that gave way to the canvas dwellings that stood every ten feet or so. So little of this planet was hospitable that the people had to live on top of one another like bees in a hive. The simulation raced me down one twisting street and to the next, so that I was coasting past grannies in doorways who were sorting seeds into one basket or another. Past children huddled around a game of skipping rocks on the ground. Past a ratty dog, everything but his eyes covered in red grit.
And then I landed in the main square. A place I’d only seen photographs of in the past.
People haggled over prices in the canvas booths that lined the square. Eggs and bread were traded and bartered. A group of unwatched children ran screaming from one end of the square to the other, adults scowling after them. A line of people 800 feet long wrapped around the square. Everyone held empty chalices. It was the line for water. A group of citizens shouted over one another as they crowded around a small wooden platform where an ox stood. The animal’s age was shown in its milky eyes and swollen joints, but still, the farmers shouted and scrapped for the auctioneer’s attention. On a planet as hard to farm as this one, any help was highly sought after.
I pulled my attention from the details of the two worlds and back to the task at hand. This wasn’t a sightseeing simulation. I was a trained Datapoint. This was my job.
This was a Culling.
Using every bit of training that had been pounded into me over the last two years, I began to block out all of the sensory details of the two colonies on either side of me. The slate gray clouds and the pale icy sun melted away on my left. On my right, the baked red became nothing more than a neutral background. Like I had a hand gripping a knob on a radio, I guided my integrated tech into turning the volume down. The noises of the market on one side muted, and the noises of the children playing on the other side did the same.
Soon, all I was left with were the citizens and the halos of red around their heads. I brought each red blur even further into focus. Starting with one alone and then moving to each citizen individually, I read their brainwaves with practiced ease.
My integrated technology and my brain worked in perfect, synchronized tandem as I identified the citizens I was looking for. In the simulation, they were scattered about, as they’d be in their worlds. But in my mind’s eye, it was as if all of the citizens were standing neatly in a line before me. Using my technology to organize them, I saw about a quarter of the citizens stepping forward. These were the ones I was about to cull. The ones with brainwaves indicating violence and aggression. The ones with the capacity to commit murder. The ones who were inclined to bring down pain on the citizens around them.
Ramona Finn writes about courageous characters who fight to live in broken, dystopian worlds. She believes a person’s true characters is often revealed in times of crisis, and there is no greater crisis than the worlds that she drops her characters into!
She grew up sitting cross-legged on her town’s library floor–completely engrossed in science fiction books. It was always the futuristic world or the universe-on-the-brink-of-extinction plotlines that drew her in, but it was the brave characters who chose to fight back that kept her turning the pages.
Her books create deep, intricate worlds with bold characters determined to fight for their survival in their dystopian worlds–with a little help from their friends. And, of course, romance is never out of the question 😉
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