2020: 2nd Place, Fiction - Alyssa Decker, “Major Ursa”
The young mercenary raced through the night, her heart pounding fast as her horse’s bionic hooves ricocheted off the ground. Night was falling, and the forest grew thicker with each step. Ursa thought to herself, They can’t be far behind. I’m running out of time. In between her heavy breathing and the thoughts firing through her brain, Ursa heard shouting close behind. Stopping in the middle of the forest, Ursa realized she had lost her sense of direction. Morgan and his henchmen rode into view. Dismounting from his horse, he grinned with false love in his eyes.
“I never wanted it to be this way, dear,” he said stepping closer to her. She hopped down from her horse, trembling with hatred.
“This is all your fault! Do you think I wanted this?” Ursa replied, backing away with her bow in hand. She stared through him, not recognizing the man he had become. She tried to remember a time when this would have ended peacefully. Sadly, those times were long gone.
Of all the childhoods in the galaxy, Ursa had among the worst. She was orphaned when her parents died in a deadly winter. Cold and malnourished, Ursa found a guard from a local organization. He took her back to his headquarters, where she would recover and grow. She spent the next seventeen years training under CORD — the Council of Robotics for Democracy — led by a man named Morgan Dubeau. She thought of CORD as her family, and of Morgan as her father.
Ursa trained with robots and cyborgs, who taught her about weapons and technology. Being one of the only humans in the organization, she often felt like an outcast, but was thankful to have grown up in a supportive environment. However, as she grew older, Morgan neglected to clarify her role in the organization; she began to worry what her work had been for.
Propaganda messages began popping up around the city. CORD had been working with various agencies to plaster Morgan’s face on every billboard with the saying “Join us today for a brighter tomorrow.” He began giving televised speeches, his words illustrating a future where the country becomes a world power built on cybernetics. CORD opened its doors for citizens to join the new society, and in the following year, Morgan gained control of the city. He developed a hatred for humans; he believed their imperfections made them weak.
It had been weeks since he had spoken to Ursa, until one day, he showed up at her quarters. Ursa was disgusted to see him. In her eyes, Morgan was the shell of the man he used to be. She felt as if her own “father” hated her for being human.
“I have a question,” Morgan prodded.
“Okay…” she trailed off. She had always dreaded this conversation.
“When would you like to start your conversion?” He grinned at her excitedly.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Surely there’s some part of you that you want replaced, right, dear?” He sensed her apprehension.
“I never agreed to be operated on, Dad.” She rose to her feet. “I’m fine just the way I am.”
“You know I want what is best for you, dear. The time is right and you would benefit greatly, especially with your archery skills. You would be a killing machine.” His hand grazed her prized bow on the bedside table. Ursa snatched it away. A machine was the last thing she wanted to be.
“I understand you’re scared, but I’m just looking out for you. The world is changing and you have to change with it, or you’ll be left behind. Don’t you want to rule the world with your old dad?” He held out his arms. “Don’t make this harder than it has to be.”
In an attempt to end the conversation, Ursa replied, “I’ll think about it, okay? I’m going to bed.” Morgan nodded and left her room. As his footsteps faded away, she began packing. She grabbed her bow and a small knapsack with food. The place she called home no longer felt safe, and her father was a stranger. Before dawn, she snuck out with Shock, her now-cyborg horse. Ursa didn’t look back as she rode away.
For a year, Ursa was on the run. She went from village to village, building a rebellion among the humans. To keep CORD’s reign from spreading to other countries, Ursa formed alliances with poor families and elders, who still had memories of a life without robotics. They saw her as their savior. Despite this, CORD named her a wanted fugitive for treason, an act that had led up to this very moment.
Ursa stared at Morgan’s cold, dead eyes, her childhood flashing through her head. All the pain and anger came flooding back to her as she stood, her eyes locked to his.
“Why should I have to turn? It’s not like you’re one of them!” she spat. Morgan was taken aback as Ursa stood her ground. She had built a wall between them, and he fiercely desired to tear it down. Trying to remain calm, Morgan motioned to his henchmen, his two “special projects.” Their bodies were human, but their minds had been almost entirely replaced by machines. By just looking at their eyes, Ursa could see them calculating every outcome of the situation. She knew if she tried to take them on, she’d be overwhelmed.
“Take her,” Morgan ordered the soldiers. Ursa panicked as the drones marched toward her. Hopping back into Shock’s saddle, she charged through the pair into the woods. They reacted quickly and returned to their horses for the chase with Morgan not far behind. Ursa knew she must act soon to keep from being caught.
Shock darted between trees as Ursa selected her next move. She readied her bow and looked back to see how close her pursuers were. Putting her trust in Shock, Ursa aimed at one of the henchmen, hoping to injure him enough to slow them down. She took a deep breath and released just as Shock changed his course of direction. The arrow went flying past its target, who didn’t even flinch. Ursa could feel Morgan’s laughter echoing on the wind.
Grabbing Shock’s reigns, she wrenched him around to face her attackers, and shifted his gallop into reverse. She now had a clear shot. Her vision bobbed up and down with Shock’s steps, but she drew back, ready to fire. She was desperate and tired of running; she wished for her old life back as this episode of chaos unfolded before her. She did not wish to harm her father, the man who had raised her, but the world was changing and so was she.
Ursa let out a final breath, relaxed, and sent the arrow flying. It soared from her hand and plunged itself deep into Morgan’s abdomen. Her jaw dropped as she realized what she had done, but she had to keep running. Morgan’s face drained of color as his eyes locked with Ursa’s. His hands fled to the wound to stop the bleeding, and he fell from his horse.
As the pain began to flood his mind, Morgan thought to himself, I raised her better than this. Ha! Couldn’t even hit a vital organ. His agonized grimace slowly curled into a wry smile. She’s playing with fire, he mused. But I’ll get her back. He stared off through the trees as Ursa rode away and his vision faded to black.
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Decker, Alyssa, "2020: 2nd Place, Fiction - Alyssa Decker, “Major Ursa”" (2020). Young Lions Award Winners 2020. 3.