"The desert?" I ask myself quietly. "Look around people, this is what our engineers dreamed up!" Six other teens looked at me, bored. "Shows a rather imaginative streak don't it?" I continued. As if on cue a ball of tumbleweed rolls past. I roll my eyes and look out to the distant. A destroyed city completely surrounded us. We were standing pretty much in the middle of a nuclear detonation site. Let off by the United Middle East in 2010, it destroyed a great big circle in the middle of an enormous city no one can remember the name of. That was shortly before they discovered even more powerful missile and blasted the Middle East off the map. Now the United Nations held absolute power over Earth, they were God. That was known as the decade of discoveries, sometimes even the decade of enlightenment. Because that year, scientists made another very important discovery.

Shape shifters had been living among humans for millions of years, when this was discovered they did all the research they could, and decided that shifters needed to be contained. Shifters were not harmful, some could be yes, but not all, and they could only shift into one type of animal. The UN passed a law, all babies that were discovered as shifters, would be taken from hospitals to training camps and facilities. They also launched city raids to take in shifters already living.

I was one such shifter. There were six other teenagers with me, two females and four males. Of the girls there was me, Katherine, a leopard, medium build, long straight white hair, not grey like most people would think and light grey eyes. There was Michaella, a wolf, medium build, short black hair and dark brown eyes. Lastly there was Tia, a hawk, tall skinny, long blonde hair and blue eyes. She looked like a supermodel, as if she would break any second.

"Ok, listen up soldiers!" My train of thought was interrupted by the commanding officer. "Your final challenge awaits you! You will find your way to the target, you will find your way alone, assisted only by the people in the maze! If you make it, you are free to move among the ranks of the army as you please, only if you make it in less than three days. If you make it over three days, you go back into training!" He shot a look at Tia. "This is the real thing! You can die in here! This is the last line!" He shot me the look now, my eyes flashed over to a leopards and back again and I arched a brow at him. "Ten minutes!" He turned back to his phone arrangements.

Of the guys, there was Jake and Alex, twins, dingoes, green eyes, sandy hair. Then there was Jason, blonde hair, black eyes, snake, very stupid. Then there was a dark brooding one, whose name and animal I did not know. He had black hair and black eyes.

I slipped on my specially designed sunglasses and words darted across my vision, heat sensors, object identification systems and UV ray deflectors. I bent down to rummage through my rucksack. Food, food duplicator, bullets, a various collection of sharp pointy things I didn't even want to know about. I took out a pocketknife, shut the bag and hitched it over my shoulder. I tucked the knife into a pocket in my shorts. I looked over my ensemble. Black, tight, tank top and ¾ length pants. Loaded with pockets. I know I must look a complete contrast, black clothes, white hair. I tightened my ponytail.

"Fall in!" They all picked up their bags and we stand in a perfectly straight line. "Ok go!" We exchanged looks and quick nods. I shifted into a leopard and darted towards the city outskirts.

Half an hour later I reach the outer links. I shift into a human and pick through the remains of a house. I opened what appeared to be the remains of an old kitchen cupboard. The rickety thing came off in my hands so I dropped it and turned back to the bare cupboard. I gasped with shock as a bug twice the size of my fist turned on me screeching. It opened its mouth and another set of teeth pulled out and went for my nose. I stepped back instinctively, reached down and grabbed the knife from my cargo pocket. I flicked the knife open and impaled the bug. It over balanced and fell to the ground, dead. I looked at it and wrinkled my nose in distaste. I turned back to the cupboard and screamed, a skeletal arm dangled in front of me. After the surprise wore off, I laughed and knocked it aside. The cupboard bore nothing edible, nothing useful to me at all.

"Got off to a good start I see?" Dark brooding guy appeared from nowhere.

"You would know would you?" I sneered back, unconsciously moving into defensive mode.

"Take a good look at me, does it look like I want to kill you?" Words darted across my sunglasses, his mood was calm but there were weapons all over him. I noted where these were, put the sunglasses on top of my head and arched my eyebrows at him.

"Who are you?" He smiled, he looked cuter that way.

"I am Chase." His eyes flashed over, to a serpentine and back. I cocked my head at an angle with cat-like curiosity, then straightened.

"Well it was nice to meet you, see ya round." I pointed and winked then turned and walked away. I pulled my sunglasses on and commanded a layout of the immediate vicinity. There was a town square nearby. I headed that way.

I crept to the town square, something making me more alert. I tuned into my feline instincts and heard the distinct sound of a little girl humming. I waited, the movement caught my eyes instantly. A girl was rocking back and forth in time to the music. Her chin was tucked into knees and she was drawing patterns in the dust. She kept humming and rocking and her hands made jerky patterns in the dirt. I ducked back behind cover and reached into my bag. I grabbed my candy bar and the food duplicator, I activated the device and packed it all away. Taking the extra candy bar with me I turned to stand and found myself nose to nose with a gnarled face. I felt the chill of the knife to my throat.

"Go away!"

"I'm trying to. What's your name?" I smiled sweetly, trying to break the ice.

"I can't remember." She remained icy.

"Well my name is Katherine." I began to edge away form the knife slowly. "How old are you?" She frowned as if she were trying to remember, or count.

"Eleven."

"Now would a cute little eleven year old like you kill someone?" She gestured with her knife hand to a ditch, full of bones. Using the opportunity I grabbed her wrist and took the knife out of her fist, she let out a mangled cry and sank to her knees.

"Little girls don't carry knives where I come from, where did you get this?" I slipped it into the pocketknife's slot in my bag.

"Someone dropped it. They all came through here, big men with guns and. knives. And I managed to hide and I kept hiding but when I came out everyone was dead. I found that next to my father." I took the chocolate bar, snapped it in half and gave her one half. I took a bite myself. She nibbled at it curiously.

"Oh, I'm so sorry. Have you seen anything since?"

"Nothing can live here. Plants begin to grow but soon after they die. It all happened after the big bang. " Nuclear reaction. " There are those bug things. Sometimes humans stray and end up trying to hurt me. I don't let them hurt me." She looked coldly at the ditch, I shuddered. "A few minutes before you showed up a bird flew overhead." I thought for a moment then handed her the rest of the chocolate. She looked happy for a second and then gobbled it quickly. I took off my bag and put it down. I shifted into a leopard and clamber up an old, dying tree. From this view it became clear there was a giant arrow imprinted in the ground. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the little girl crawling toward my bag. I leapt off the tree and landed with a thud, blocking her path. I shifter back into a human and grabbed my bag. I pulled out her fathers knife and gave it to her.

"Your name is Stitch," I said then walked away. I reached the edge of the square, turned back and looked at the arrow, the little girl was seated at the point puzzling over the engraving on the knife. She shimmered away.

"Very subtle," I smiled to myself and turned back onto the path.

~~

After scrambling through the ruins of what probably used to be a really tall skyscraper, I came to the battered remains of a sporting stadium. I walked confidently into the field, wondering what was going to hit me next. Suddenly a paper ball flew out of nowhere and hit me on the head.

"Quite literal really." I wondered to myself.

"Shut up!" I whirled around at the voice. A mistake considering there were lots of sharp pointy objects pointed at me. One of them nicked me and my hand darted to my jaw.

"Well that wasn't very nice."

"Could have been worse." I looked around carefully.

"True." Considering my situation was not likely to change much I began to analyze it. A sergeant drilled words in the back of my head. Determine your situation. Well that was easy, I was standing in the middle of a field with about fifteen grubby men and women holding sharp pointy objects to my neck. Determine whether my life was in danger or not. Well, that depended on how much I moved. Determine whether peace or my military was the only way out.

"Ok, so what exactly is it you want from me, or are you threatening with sharp objects for the fun of it?"

"We want everything you have, and of course your death, 'cause of the whole trespassing thing."

"I don't see any signs."

"Don't need them."

"So I'm going to have to fight my way out?" Laughter. "Well come on, fifteen against one? At least put down your weapons." They looked around uncertainly, the leader nodded and they all did. I take a look around and figure at least half of them would dive for them again.