One Of The Chosen
Phoebe looked up at the words emblazoned above the extravagant, towering front gates – “Parthenos Higher Learning Institution”. She still couldn’t quite believe that she was here. The school was one of the most successful in The City. Founded by Athena herself, on one of the highest levels of The City, it was generally reserved for children of the richest and most important families. Most of them were smart enough, but with expensive schooling and private tutors, that was hardly surprising. Phoebe hadn’t had any of those luxuries – she’d grown up in one of the poorer districts of the sub-levels, her family barely able to afford to eat well, let alone splash out on extra tuition. After performing near flawlessly in all the standardised testing, and staying behind to study in the library as often as she could, her application to Parthenos had been accepted against all expectations, with a full scholarship and living costs paid for by the University.
The morning was an uneventful one. Phoebe usually sat alone in lectures – she hadn’t made many friends yet during her time here, but even if she had she could do without the distractions they would likely bring. When the morning’s lectures were done, she found herself a corner to sit and eat her packed lunch. Half way through her sandwich, she heard a voice crackle over the intercom.
“Could Phoebe Floros please come to the Director of Studies’ office.”
Phoebe’s heart missed a beat – had she done something wrong? She had only been late for one of her assignments so far, and had done nothing to aggravate any of the teachers – she’d never been one for troublemaking, even when the opportunity arose. Neither had she done anything spectacularly worthy of praise in her brief time here. Sure, she’d come top in most of her classes, but nothing to warrant an unscheduled visit to the higher-ups. Possibilities and worries running back and forth across her mind, she stuffed the uneaten half of her lunch into her bag and rushed to the office.
She was met by the sight of a tall figure standing in front of the Director of Studies’ desk, with the director themselves nowhere to be seen. The figure was shrouded from head to toe in black clothing, the edge of his long coat blending seamlessly into the dark trousers. His face was obscured by the shadow of a wide brimmed hat, and over the soft creaking of his hands moving in their leather gloves, he spoke.
“Phoebe Floros. Greetings.”
His voice was soft and surprisingly calming, when juxtaposed with the overbearing and somewhat threatening demeanour he possessed.
“My name is Charon. You may have heard of me.”
Phoebe’s heart began to race. She had heard rumours and whispers, but nothing she’d believed to be more than stories, and tales told to scare children. Tales of a subsection of The Acheron, reserved only for the brightest and best minds. Tales of how they were selected to join earlier than usual, at their cognitive peak. Tales of the man who came for those who had been chosen to serve there before their time – the man who was now standing in front of her. Only when he stopped did she realise he had been speaking.
“Do you understand?”
“Could you repeat that?”
“You have been selected to join The Styx, a prestigious section of The Acheron reserved for the exceptionally intelligent, like yourself. As a member you will be allowed to retain a significant proportion of your cognitive self, and you will be set to work on top priority data management.”
“And if I refuse?”
“I don’t think you understand. Selection for The Styx is not optional. If you participate willingly, we will give you one week to bid farewell to loved ones and deal with your personal effects. If not, we will remove such privileges, and are authorised to use lethal force. Should your brain be damaged in the process, we will revoke your access and you will join The Acheron as normal.”
Phoebe could barely think. Her instincts told her to say no, or to feign agreement and run, but there would be no use. There was no-where to run to – every inch of The City was monitored closely by surveillance cameras, and besides, she was hardly the fugitive type. If the Olympians were involved, even the most hardened and streetwise would likely be caught within weeks, and the lack of records on the subject implied that these orders were coming from somewhere very high. She’d always known that one day she’d join The Acheron – that was just a fact of life. But she hadn’t imagined it would be so soon. Trembling, her cheeks damp with tears, she whispered
“Excellent. We’re glad to have you on board. I will arrange for someone to pick you up outside this Institute in one week. Don’t be late.”