Winera swallowed hard and pulled at her collar. The neckline of her tunic made her feel hot, but everyone was wearing their best. A chance at a full Alliance education, a job and an opportunity to see the universe was in that sensor’s hands.
Loshosh wasn’t so much a poor world, as unutterably dull. There were two ways off. You could wait until either you had acquired enough money to travel or you could be chosen for the Citadel. There were no other ways out.
Winera stepped forward another position. One of the men ahead of her got the nod, and he was allowed to go to the left instead of the right. She felt flushed and crossed her fingers that she had a dormant talent inside. The power sensor would know and he would tell her whether she was acceptable or not.
No one in Winera’s family ever got the nod but everyone still tried. It was the nature of the population of Loshosh; they were both optimistic and realistic at the same time.
There were three people between her and the sensor. With each slide of skin against scale, her heart pounded until she was facing him and he extended his hands to her.
“Please place your hands on mine, palms down.”
Winera extended her hands to him, slowly lowering her palms to his. She heard a sizzle a moment before he shouted, “Containment!”
A woman broke from the conversation she had been having with the organizer and was at Winera’s side in an instant.
The hug was surprising, but the pull of the woman’s arms broke the contact with the sensor.
Another robed Citadel member rushed to his side and placed their hands over his.
“Calm down, miss. I am going to walk you to the edge of the grounds. You can send out a pulse from there.”
“A what?” Winera was confused. Did I pass or fail and why is she holding me?
“Oh dear. Well, we are going to take a walk and I am going to explain a few things to you. My designation is Container Nehad. You can call me Needy.” The woman chuckled but kept walking with her arms around Winera.
“Well, Needy. I appreciate meeting new people, but why are you hugging me?”
“You have a talent that just woke up under the stress of the determination. Based on the smell, you burned the sensor. Don’t worry. We keep a healer with us for just such occasions.”
“So, I am a talent but I just assaulted the power sensor. Where does that leave me?”
They swayed together as they made it to the edge of the property.
“Well, you need training. Heat talents are always needed for many different applications. You will be a wealthy woman by the end of your career.”
They exited through the door in the fence and Needy tugged her to one side, with her own back to the wall.
“What precisely is it that you are doing, Needy?”
“Well, my talent shields me from yours, but we need the stone wall at our backs to protect all the people at the selection event. With the amount of heat you put out during a handshake, you would not be good for their health.” Needy settled herself and slowly lowered her arms.
Winera was nervous. “What do I do?”
“Step away from me until the heat returns, and when it does, because it will, it will course out of you. Aim it at the mountains and away from any buildings in the distance. You might be more powerful than you think, so pick the safest spot you can.”
Winera took a few steps and looked back at Needy. The woman’s birdlike features and feathered skin and beaked nose were surprisingly comforting. Her dark brown eyes were kind as she waved Winera off.
At twenty paces from Needy, Winera felt the rising heat once again. She let it come.
She shivered on the ground, kneeling on a scorched piece of earth. Needy was at her side in a moment, clucking in comfort and covering her with the Citadel robes that she had been wearing. “It’s all right, child. You will be fine. We have you now. You are joining the Citadel. What is your name by the way?”
“Winera. Winera Eckerhart.” She huddled in the warmth of the robes.
“How old are you, Winera?” The soft hand stroked her forehead and calmed her.
“Twelve, Container Nehad. I just turned twelve.” She dozed against the feathered touch and didn’t look around as she was lifted and carried to the shuttle.
“Mr. and Mrs. Eckerhart, your daughter Winera is one of the strongest Scorchers that I have ever seen.” Power Sensor Riskin was trying to break things gently to the couple.
The couple were clinging to each other and looking around them with wide eyes.
Mrs. Eckerhart spoke up, “Where is my daughter?”
“I will be frank. Do you see that dark mark on the hillside below?”
It was a three-mile-wide span of scorched earth and vegetation that had flashed from living to crisp in seconds.
“Your daughter’s power manifested during the power sensing. She got nervous and this is what happened. Now that she has activated, there is no way that you will be able to train and contain her.”
Her mother straightened her shoulders. “What do we need to do to make sure that she is safe?”
“Sign this contract and authorize the Citadel to make all decisions regarding her training and employment.”