She has never hated anyone as much as she hates Calvin right now.

IF YOU DON'T HAUL YOUR ASS UP HERE IN THE NEXT 21 SECONDS, I WILL GRAB YOU BY YOUR THROAT AND HAUL YOU UP HERE MYSELF!

Not all that long ago she thought she hated her parents. But over the past year she has come to understand - on an almost conscious level - what she never allowed herself to realize before; namely, that presented with the same situation as her parents she would almost certainly have reacted exactly as they had.

TEN MORE! ONE! ONE! ONE!

Right after it had happened she really hated the kids she had thought of has her friends. There had been something disproportionately cruel about their teasing. Some of them, she knew, believed in things much sillier than the ability to call brilliant green light out of nothing. But, being perfectly honest with herself (as one must be when one is in this much pain) she also knew that they had been smart enough to keep their fantasies mostly to themselves.

But this hatred had been short-lived. Soon after she was too deep into her own studies to worry one way or the other about her friends - which meant, of course, that it wasn't long before she had none left to worry about.

CENTER MASS, LUV, CENTER MASS! I DON'T CARE IF YOU CAN SHOOT THE LEFT NUT OFF A TSE-TSE FLY, OUR GOAL IS TO SUBDUE THESE PEOPLE - NOT DROP 'EM FOR GOOD. EVEN FIRIN' BEANBAGS, YOU HIT 'EM IN THE EYE, IT'S GONNA KILL 'EM!

She does not, and has never, hated James. James is just doing his job, and doing it extremely well.

"Who's this, then?" he had said on Day One. The question had been preceded by a look that had accurately sized-up every bit of her out-of-shape, self-absorbed, moody, bookishness.

"This is Victoria, James." Calvin generally sounded like he was floating through a cocktail party, and this introduction sounded no different. "You'll be training her for the team."

"Like hell." James had turned around and walked straight out of the conference room.

Calvin took a seat and poured himself a coffee from the porcelain service on the table. He had just finished stirring in his suger when James walked back in. "If I fire her she stays fired. No questions or comments from you."

"Yes," Calvin said.

"The first time she cries, the first time she even whispers she wants to quit, I fire her and you bring me someone else."

"Yes."

"Come on, then," James had said over his shoulder. "Let's get started."

Now, on DAY 327, with dirt and blood in her mouth and sweat - not tears - stinging her eyes she looks at the man, inches from her face, screaming at her in his strong Australian cadence, and feels only affection. And loyalty. And pride.

Then she snaps her left foot square into his knee.

I DON'T KNOW WHERE HE IS AND AS LONG AS THE CHECKS DON'T BOUNCE I DON'T CARE! NOW SHUT THE HELL UP AND RUN!

327 days since she started this, and not one visit from Calvin. Not one more word about what he knows. Not one hint about the man in the park.

The one person in the world who can point her life toward meaning - and he is completely absent.

~~( )~~

From a quarter mile away, well out of sight, Calvin watches them with the aid of a pair of Steiner 10x50's. He smiles to himself as each action, each movement, shows him that she has progressed beyond anything he could have hoped for.

Another year. Maybe a little more.