Sylvia was sitting in some house, in some chair, her pack on the floor next to her feet. Everything around her was old and dirty and grey, but the cushion was soft. She hadn't moved out of the chair since she'd woken up.
It hadn't been very long ago, perhaps four or five minutes. All her senses had flooded her at once. Too much noise, a tempest of her own creation: thoughts, panic, helplessness. But she was okay now. No, no, not exactly okay, not this fast, but... better. She'd just needed to get her bearings, and handle everything that came first to her mind.
She would never see her family again - that was the last thing that lingered. Since she had been chosen, that could mean her brothers were safe from this for the rest of their school years. Still, what if her parents decided to move to escape the memories? What if the random selection was truly random, and it landed on her school once again?
It was supposed to be an honor to serve the country, but there had to be a limit. She vaguely knew people who had lost relatives in the fighting overseas. And from further in history, there was the Bixby Letter, the Sole Survivor Policy... she couldn't remember if the latter was even still in effect, not while America was at war on all fronts. There had to still be room for mercy somewhere.
She just didn't think her parents could possibly stand losing all of their children for America, no matter how much of an honor it was.
Enough of that, though. That was years from now if ever - this was now. She wasn't really okay practically speaking. She was almost certainly going to die.
But there was still a chance. No matter how impossible it seemed. She wasn't cut out for this compared to many of her classmates (athletic, disciplined, charismatic), but if she made a plan, she would be giving herself the best chance that she possibly could.
Planning was something she was used to. When she played a video game, she would read the manual, play the tutorials, look for walkthroughs, all to figure out exactly what her best first moves were, what her general strategy would be before she even started the game for the first time. Sometimes she was still wrong. That was okay - intuition came with practice.
She wasn't unprepared here either. She had watched the Program several times before, and for one thing, there was no collar around her neck when she remembered there had been collars last time. Definitely something she could try to take advantage of - she just needed to make sure she was somewhere safe first, not a sitting duck for anybody passing by.
Sylvia reached down and unzipped her pack. Clothes hanger. White, plastic, and too prominent in the bag not to be her assigned weapon. An uncomfortable feeling went through her gut, some sort of twisting, shrinking sensation, but she forced it away, zipped the pack, and took the hanger in her left hand.
Then she stood, slipping the pack onto her other shoulder, and remembered for the first time since their school had been read out in the auditorium that technically, these shoes that she wore only four times a year were her mother's, and also that they didn't fit.
Sylvia almost laughed. Five minutes of theory, of beginning to turn the wheels in her head to get herself where she had to be to survive - to fall apart at the first real step.
Shoes. Such a small problem back home. Her family had money enough for most anything she would have reasonably asked for. If she had wanted new shoes, loafers that fit, she would have gotten them.
She had sabotaged herself without even knowing, over the years. That day freshman year - she could almost see her parents' faces in front of her, already concerned even though she wasn't eligible yet, concerned because appearances mattered to them. It was a day of patriotism, of sacrifice. Didn't she want to wear something nicer, they had asked. They cared about appearances, but Sylvia had known that it was a real question. If she had said no, they would have accepted it, and would not have loved her any less for it. And she would not be in this position now.
There had been no time to shop. She would not be in this position now if she had not chosen to wear her mother's loafers that day as a temporary measure. If she had not worn them the time after, or the time after that, until it became a routine as easy and comfortable as any other routine she had.
She would not be in this position now, if she had really, truly believed that she might be chosen for the Program.
But there was nothing she could do about that now. She had control over some things and no control over others. She had to look at this going forward from now, twisting what she could control in her favor, and leaving the rest to luck.
Her shoes were a larger problem than they seemed, here. Since they didn't fit, that meant she was less mobile than she had expected. Her feet could blister. She could trip. They might even end up falling off entirely (she had not grown into them like she might have expected four years ago), leaving her in socks against whatever sharp things might be on the ground.
There was no easy solution, none that she could think of right now. Sylvia pushed the problem aside, and began to move around to take in her surroundings for real.
Thinking less now that she was in motion, she flitted quickly through the house, careful to stay away from the windows and doors. Out of sight, out of the firing line. It was a small house, self-contained, and she was struck that it would have seemed crowded even with a small family. Why would anyone choose to live in such a place? Was this really what Mexico was like - part of America, and yet never truly American?
There was no time to dwell further. She began to drag pieces of furniture out of place, first sliding a couch in front of the front door as quietly as she could.