Here is the story, THE MISSING. Hope you enjoy! The Characters: Clarissa Ada Young / Queenie - @HelloColdWorld Emily Sunshine / Solar - @GlowingLights Iris Hearth / Sorrow - @Auruh Alex Silverfeather / Omega - @Wolfyy Naoko Nakamura / Silent - @Glowy Leiko Wannabe / Snitch - @DanielaParty Freya Hilton / Plums - @Jeon Jungkook <3 Leviathan Inges / Cat - @Boriiii Leslie Jimenez / June - @Pinxxie Colin Davidson / Ocean - @PepperPancake Jules Burke / Truth - @AJules Kyo Kizokunashi / Princess - @Azamii Charlotte Anders / Arrow - @ESpooko Karter Fontaine / Robin - @HuskyInAHat Robyn Winchester / Nightingale - @HelloColdWorld Spoiler: Prologue BREAKING NEWS Thousands of missing reports have piled up over the last week all over the world as an estimate of over twenty thousand people went missing last Monday. The majority of whom are aged between 18 and 24. No evidence has come to light of where this vast amount of young people have gone. Law enforcement all over the world are working hard to find any clues, as a representative of the NYPD says, ‘There must be a connection to all of these disappearances, and we will find that link.’ Wherever they may be, they are in our thoughts and prayers. ~ Darkness. Silence. Trapped. Her grey eyes opened suddenly, taking in the darkness. Her eyes refused to adjust to the impenetrable black that filled her vision. Her entire body began to shake, as she tried to rack her brain trying to remember something, anything. But her mind was blank. Suddenly, harsh light flooded into the room. She let out a small cry at the immediate brightness of the room. Blinking away tears, she found herself in a small white room, the walls, floor and ceiling were all padded. There was nothing in the cell except herself, she was tall, standing at 5’10, her limbs were corded with lean muscle. But with a start, she found her left leg partially different. Nervously, she pulled up the black jeans she wore, revealing from the knee downwards, a prosthetic limb. Sweat beaded on her skin as she began racking her brain, trying to remember the loss of half her leg. But no recollection came. Her hair was as black as night, swallowing up the brightness of the room, yet it faded into silver, the two colours almost exact opposites. Along with the jeans she wore a grey t-shirt and a black leather jacket that was covered with embroidered roses on the left arm. She shrugged off the jacket, glad to feel a small chill in the padded room, snaking across her muscular arms was a fire dragon tattoo on her left and a symbol she couldn’t remember on her right. Scars decorated her bare skin, the thin white lines telling stories of a violent past. Inspecting these scars, she suddenly jolted as one word punched through into her blank mind. Iris. Tears flooded her stone-grey eyes; her mouth opened and closed like a goldfish as she wracked her brain. Iris, Iris, IRIS! She silently yelled in her mind. But she remembered nothing else. As warm tears covered her face, she sank onto the floor again. Iris curled into a ball, quietly whimpering to herself. ~ The lights had brought them to consciousness, but as soon as they opened their aching eyes, the bright lights dissipated. They didn’t have time to register the room they sat in, regardless, they began to move. A trickster at heart, they started to analyse their situation, almost completely forgetting the bonds the clamped their hands together. They looked at the handcuffs, raising their arms up and squinting into the darkness. It took a moment before their eyes adjusting to the lack of lighting; they found themselves chained down by simple handcuffs, a mischievous grin lifted their lips, it was hardly a challenge to them. They pulled out a bobby pin from their unkempt long brown hair, straightening out the metal and shaping it into a sort of key. Within seconds, the handcuffs fell to the ground, unlocked. Just as the cuffs hit the padded floors, one thought filled their mind. You are Alex Silverfeather, how could you forget? Their smirk momentarily faded, a jolt of surprise flooded them. Alex’s immediate thoughts were to escape; they never thought about their name. In response to their surprise, the lights switched back on. Instantly, Alex began inspecting the room: plain padded walls, ceiling and door, and a dirty mirror hung on the left wall. With a grimace, they started to evaluate their appearance, trying to remember more of themselves. Alex stood at around six feet, dominating the space they stood in, their skin was deeply tanned, indicating they had spent long hours in the sun. Their wavy brown hair faded into dark purple that reached their chest, with a sigh, Alex tied up their long hair into a sweeping ponytail before continuing their assessment. Their eyes were heterochromatic; their left eye was a stormy grey while their right was a shade of blue that matched the ocean. A faded scar that trailed from their right cheek to their left collarbone distorted their tanned skin to a pale white. Alex smirked once more, turning away from the grimy mirror and towards the door. They decided it was time to leave this padded room and get the hell out of wherever they were. The lights seemed to understand Alex’s thoughts, as they marched towards the door, the brightness of the room was swallowed up by darkness. It was as if whoever had put them in the padded room had said, Better luck next time. ~ Jules remembered their name the second they awoke. The lights in the room flashed on when their greyish eyes opened, taking in the space. They too had been dozing on the floor of a padded cell; their hands had been bonded together with zipties, which Jules tugged hopelessly at. But their name was the only reassurance they needed. It snapped into their mind straight away, as if the mental barrier hiding away their name instantly shattered at their consciousness. With a shrug, Jules stood up, scanning the tiny room. Their black rimmed glasses kept falling down their nose, so they continuously had to push them up with their tied hands. Jules had bright blue short hair, pale skin with a splash of moles on their face. The sides of their head were shaved, revealing their natural, dark hair. Jules was wearing a black hoodie and skinny black jeans, they stood at 5’2 and had one black stretcher in each of their ears. They sighed heavily, flopping to the ground and adjusting their glasses once more. ‘This doesn’t make any sense,’ They murmured. As they spoke, the lights dissipated, leaving Jules in darkness. ~ Emily could hardly breathe. She had remembered her name as she sat on the padded floor, tears filling up her blue-green eyes. Her circular glasses had steamed up as her cheeks burned in the pitch darkness. Angry at herself, Emily swatted at the tears that threatened to spill down her face. She tried to pull herself into a rational state, using her name, Emily Sunshine, you are Emily Sunshine, as a mantra to bring her thoughts into a clearer state. The room seemed to prefer the dry-eyed Emily, for the lights switched on suddenly, a faint click indicating the change in lighting. She grimaced at the sudden brightness, shielding her eyes from the lights that burned into her skull. Blinking rapidly, she pulled her glasses off, wiping them clean before placing the thin-rimmed glasses back on. With her vision clear, Emily began turning around in circles, looking for any clue of escape, her breathing harshened at the size of the room. It was small, too small for her, Emily had claustrophobia, anxiety and fear bubbled up inside, her maddened eyes surveyed the room searching for something more. Instead, she met a scared girl staring at her, Emily abruptly faltered, before realising it was her reflection. A small sigh escaped her as she tried to ignore the small space she stood in, Emily moved closer to the mirror, taking in her appearance. Her hair was short; chocolate brown curls brushed her slightly tanned shoulders. Around her neck was a thin golden necklace, the metal shone off the bright lights, catching her eye. A gold heart-shaped charm dangled from the chain, the heart was slightly worn but still gave off a brilliant shine. Emily gave her reflection a nervous smile, though her insides were churning. That’s when the lights shut off, sending the girl to the ground with a yelp. Emily shook violently as she remained huddled in a ball, slowly, she slipped out of consciousness once again. ~ To say the least, she was not happy. Leiko was burning with anticipation but mostly anger. She had awoken in the darkness; her brown eyes had scanned the entire room regardless of the lack of lighting. When the lights snapped on, Leiko hissed at the sudden brightness. But when it flooded the room, so did memories. For starters, her full name, Leiko Wannabe, ripped into her mind like a backhanded slap. With a small growl, she pounced at the padded room door, her bitten down nails clawing at the material. ‘Let me out!’ She cried, but her words were left unheard. She gave up quite quickly, though found some satisfaction in seeing the scratches she left in the padded door. Leiko began scanning the room, jolting slightly at her own appearance. The dirty mirror was speckled with unknown stains which she ignored, stepping closer towards the mirror, a small frown indented on her forehead. Leiko had brown shoulder-length hair, though it was slightly dishevelled from sleeping on the ground. Her eyes were several shades darker than her hair, a contrast to her fair skin. Leiko stood at 5’6 but appeared quite skinny, her body significantly weaker to her defensive attitude. Her expression in the mirror was now emotionless as she stared at herself. Above her, the lights began to flicker; fear filled her eyes for a second before it transformed into rage. Once again, Leiko began screaming, ‘GET ME OUT!’ Her emotions began to explode suddenly. She ran towards the mirror, a weak fist aimed straight at it. Before her hand made contact with the glass, the lights switched off. Faltering her anger, she sank to the floor, her nails breaking the skin on her palms. ~ Her bright blue eyes were full of concern at the figure that flickered in the ghoulish fluorescent lights blaring down. She was sat on the floor; the padded wall was comfy to lie against as she stared at herself. In front of her, a full-length mirror took up a portion of the wall, it was surprisingly clean, with no smudges or dirt clinging to the reflective surface. She couldn’t help but examine herself; her thoughts were empty, nothing of familiarity came to her as she stared blankly into the mirror. She had bright blue hair, obviously dyed to the pretty hue, in pigtails that swayed from side to side as she moved. Her skin was porcelain pale that almost perfectly matched the white walls surrounding her. She wore an oversized blue jacket, its sleeves and collar were significantly larger, hiding both her hands and the majority of her face. To finish off her outfit, she wore a white pleated skirt and thigh high black socks with a blue stripe down the middle of them. She sat up slightly, tilting her head to the side as she attempted to engrave her appearance into her mind. She just wanted to remember something, anything. Kyo. ~ Leviathan was content enough that she remembered her name the second her eyes opened. But everything else that followed made her increasingly uncomfortable. In the silence of the padded room, she could hear the rapid beating of her heart as fear crawled under her skin. She was bent forward in the brace position, trying to use it as a way to calm herself down. But even then her intrusive thoughts of irrationality made everything worse. Instead, she wanted to distract herself with objective thoughts, not the subjective, what ifs... Leviathan began to focus on her appearance, silently taking in her clothing and body. She was very skinny, and small, though she couldn't tell her exact height. She touched the ends of her hair; it was short, barely grazing her shoulders. In the dim light, she guessed her hair was dark brown, on the top of her head was a now crushed flower crown, she pulled it off her hair, inspecting the dark flowers decorating the crown. Leviathan was wearing a black sweater dress; it stopped just above her knees where small plasters covered her exposed legs. Then she found bright white socks that reached her calves and a pair of black trainers with a logo on each side of the shoe. She didn't recognise the circled star. Instead, she focused on the condition of the shoes she wore, definitely overworn, but also loved, in her mind. She had no clue what her face looked like, but when she touched the skin there, she felt deep ridges in the skin, particularly on her cheeks. Some of the scars had sunken under the surface, while others stuck out significantly, suddenly she felt self-conscious, her face warming with embarrassment. She tugged at the long sleeves on her dress, picking at the cuffs, holding tightly, Leviathan found something stuck down her right sleeve. Instinctively, she pulled her right arm into the clothing, grabbing the cloth she pulled it out, curiosity filled her as she held up a sort of surgical mask. Remembering the scars on her face, she pulled the mask onto her face, suddenly feeling a bit more comfortable with her appearance. As a small state of calmness washed over her, she tried to think of something, anything other than her name. Leviathan knew there was more to herself than just her scrawny appearance and interesting name. Yet as she stared at the padded walls in silence, she realised that she wasn't going to remember anything else. ~ He greeted the silence happily. But it was the darkness that made him anxious. His brown eyes had squinted hopelessly at the area. All he knew was that it wasn’t normal, but then he realised he couldn’t remember what normal was to him. A cold sweat broke out on his skin as he realised he couldn’t think anything about him. Every rational thought he may have had escaped his mind, the darkness only made it worse. In the silence he tried to talk to himself, he found it a sort of comfort as if he was something he had done before. It's okay, calm down, I'm okay for now. I just… just need to remember something... what’s my name? Nothing came to him. Instead, his appearance did. The lights flickered on, revealing the white padded cell he sat in. Opening his eyes, he found himself looking back at him. Jet black hair slightly spiked up covered his head; he had pale skin and a skinny body. He was 5’5 and wore only black and grey. Dark bruises of sleeplessness were circled under his eyes, a frown deep in his brows. The mirror was half shattered; it had initially been hung from the walls but seemed to half fallen. It was at his eye level, though his appearance was slightly distorted from the cracks. But it was this distortion that he needed so that he could remember. My name is Naoko. ~ Even in the dark, she noticed her bright purple hair. It was nicely arranged in a loose plait; small flowers were intertwined within the strands of hair. She had woken in the darkness, though she felt quite calm sitting there. Her back was against the padded wall; legs stretched out as she rubbed the end of the plait between her fingers. She couldn’t tell what else her appearance was, as she had merely forgotten what she looked like. Her mind had been blank when she woke up, so she tried to fill it up with new thoughts and feelings she had at that moment. And for a while, it worked. But it was only when the minutes began to feel like hours did it stop, she had no clue what the time was, nor how long she’d been in her cell. All she had was the darkness and her hair and its bright hue that refused to be diminished in the dark. She felt as if someone was watching her, waiting for her to make a move. But instead, she sat in her silence, hugging her knees tightly and squeezed her eyes shut. Where's Lula? Her eyes instantly snapped open; her breathing began to harshen. She remembered that name but knew it wasn't her own. All she knew was this person was important to her, so important her chest began to ache. 'Who is Lula?' She whimpered into the darkness. Freya, she's your sister! And then the suddenly, lights flashed on, blinding her. ~ Charlotte Anders, Charlotte Anders, Charlotte Anders! Don't forget it! Not again... Those were the thoughts that bustled through Charlotte's mind after five minutes of staring blankly at the four padded walls surrounding her. She'd been dozing in the room for hours; the fluorescent lights meant nothing to her apparently as they continued buzzing above her. Charlotte remained curled up in a ball, tapping her knee absent-mindedly, for reasons unknown to her, she felt oddly calm. No jolt of panic nor need to escape filled her; Charlotte just focused on her clustered thoughts. Though there wasn't much to think about, just questions, no thoughts, no memories, no answers. Only the same utterances over and over again. Your name is Charlotte Anders! Don't forget it! Not again... Not again... Not again? When had she forgotten her name? And why had it come back to her, but nothing else? Charlotte tightened her grip on herself, her tall body shrinking into a ball. Her blue eyes were closed; she tried to hold the warm tears were wanting to spill in her closed lids. But the sudden click of the lights shutting off brought her eyes open. Tears stained Charlotte's cheeks as she stared up at the darkened lights. Confusion wrapped around her like a blanket, shakily she stood up. She was 5'10, an average weight for her size and clear, fair skin. Charlotte's light brown hair was braided away, though it was slightly untidy from sleeping in an awkward position. She was wearing a burgundy hoodie with a logo she couldn't recognise on it, black leggings and a pair of scruffy trainers. There was no dirt on them, Charlotte could see the meticulous hours she must have put in to scrub them clean, yet they were still old and worn through. She tugged lightly at the hoodie strings, finding comfort in the action as she stood in the darkness. Her back was against the padded wall as anxious prickled at her skin. Charlotte slowly slid back onto the ground, still picking at the hoodie strings. It was several hours before the lights turned back on. ~ He immediately assumed this was all his fault. Cold sweat soaked his lean body; he was panting harshly, taking in large gulps of fresh air into his lungs. His bright green eyes scanned the dimly lit room he sat in, padded walls, no windows and a locked door. He was tall, standing at 5'10, suiting his lean, muscular body. His dark blonde hair was untidy from sleeping on it, he pulled his fingers through the strands, making it stand up in a quiff of sorts. Slowly, he began to stand, the room's lighting was bearable, he was not standing in pitch darkness, but he still had to squint to look further than a few feet. He strode towards the door; it had padded fabric attached to it, making it difficult to discern from the rest of the walls. There was no handle, yet he still tried to pull at the door, a small metallic squeak filled his ears, but the door didn't budge. Giving up quickly, he began pacing in the room, sighing heavily as he groped his hair, tousling it even further. He abruptly stopped, forgetting about escaping suddenly and thinking about another severe issue he almost forgot about. Who am I? A leader. But what's my name? That's for you to work out. He groaned with dissatisfaction at his own thoughts; he pulled his hands out of his hair. Catching his eye was a dark splotch on his otherwise pale skin. Examining it, he found a small tattoo of a robin tattooed into his left wrist. His eyes widened, not at remembrance but what flooded into his mind. Karter Fontaine, this isn't your fault, but you help will make it right. ~ Bright lights filled the air, forcing her awake. A mixture of fear and dread filled the girl as she took in her surroundings. White padded walls, no door, no windows, only her harsh breathing. White hair brushed her cheek, she tried to tuck it behind her but found her hands restrained. Silver handcuffs circled her skinny wrists. Her dark grey eyes were wide; her breathing began to speed up. She started panicking. But then, one thought abruptly stopped her panic. My name is Clarissa. The sudden realisation was electrifying. Her mind had been blank, yet that one thought was the only thing she could think of, My name is Clarissa. Her heartbeat continued to pound, but as she sat there in the padded room, she started moving. She stood up shakily, her legs ached, but she ignored the pain as she slowly wandered the room, her hands still restrained. It was small, the perfect size for a cell. Her mind gave no recollection of why she was in this situation. It seemed only her first name was acceptable for Clarissa to have. Clueless, she quietly asked the room, ‘Where am I?’ In response, the room fell into darkness once more, Clarissa’s vision was lost to the blackness. ~ His instincts to investigate took over the second he was fully conscious. His head felt groggy, and his hands were tied together in front of him with a zip tie. The room was dimly lit, the lights above him flickering occasionally. He was on his feet when he realised he was in a padded locked cell. He began to laugh darkly, shaking his head slightly. 'Yeah... this isn't going to happen.' He had already accepted that he couldn't remember anything, yet he had an unconscious urge to get out of the cell and find out what sort of situation he was in. He lifted his arms in the air, his bonded wrists above his head. 'This is going to hurt like hell...' He muttered. He quickly brought down his arms in a rapid motion, his clasped hands hitting his stomach. When nothing happened, he tried again and again until the zip tie finally snapped. He hissed loudly, deep marks grooved into his skin at the sudden impact. He massaged his wrists slowly, his teeth clenched. With his hands free, he dragged his fingers through his dark brown messy hair. He had light brown eyes, pale skin and a significantly sharp jawline. He stood at 5'11 and light freckles dotted under his eyes and on his forehead. A frown was set deep into his brows as he began to wander around the padded cell. He didn't particularly have any ideas on getting out of the cell, but he still tried to analyse the situation. Instead of a mastermind thought on how to escape, he remembered a remnant of himself. My name is Colin Davidson. ~ Leslie's hands trembled as she played with the heart shaped necklace she wore. It was shaped with alexandrite, which glittered faintly in the low lighting of the room. She couldn't see particularly why she found so much comfort with the necklace, but she rubbed it gently between her thumbs anyway. Leslie had awoken with a gasp, her bluish grey eyes wet with tears as she took in her surroundings. The small weight on the base of her throat was what made her remember her name. She had looked down at the pretty blue gem which held just enough familiarity for her to remember, Leslie Jimenez. She had wavy hair that trailed down to her waist; it was a pretty brown shade with faint natural highlights from the sun. She was quite short for her age, standing at 5'1 and was quite skinny. She was wearing blue jeans and a casual graphic tee. Her brows were slightly knitted into a frown as she stared up at the room, she didn't particularly know what to do with herself in a padded room with a locked door. She had already tried to yank the door open, but it resisted at her futile efforts. Instead, Leslie sank to the ground; the padded floor was more comfortable than she had expected. She didn't know how long she'd been sat there, but her legs had gone numb when she began playing with her necklace. Her breathing began to intensify by the minute, her heart beating faster as she sat there trembling uncontrollably, although she didn't want to admit it, Leslie was terrified at what was to come. Her lack of memories made the situation especially worse; she hated the inevitable over-thinking that took over her mind. She was confused, scared and alone; she couldn't help the tears that began to well up in her eyes. I want to go home; I want to go back! But where is home? She couldn't answer that last question, so the locked door responded for her. Breaking the silence instantly, the padded door clicked loudly, Leslie's heart pounded even further. Barely able to stand from being on the ground, she began to crawl feverishly towards the door, pulling at the padded fabric and yanking the door open. What followed next she could not believe. ~ Seven thousand young adults, all aged from eighteen to twenty-four sat alone in their padded cells. All that surrounded them was either the light or the dark; they had all awoken at some point in their cell. But none had any successful attempts in escaping the small rooms; some didn’t even try to flee. However, all the young adults were now awake, watching with dull and shocked eyes as their cell doors finally opened. A booming voice followed, coaxing the young people out of the padded cells. ‘Welcome, soldiers, to the Western Sector. You have all been selected to save this planet; you are all now the beginnings of Operation TBE. Let the battle begin!’ Spoiler: Chapter 1 Jules felt quite discouraged at the unlocked door, but remembering their tied hands, they decided it would be a good opportunity to escape. Rising unsteadily, they made their way to the door, nudging it open further with their toe. Bright lights filled Jules’ vision; they had been left in the darkness ever since they spoke. It took a moment before their grey eyes adjusted to the sudden brightness, quietly, they walked out the padded cell, which remained in its darkness. Before they could think of escaping, a booming voice echoed through the hallway Jules found themselves in. ‘Welcome, soldiers, to the Western Sector. You have all been selected to save this planet; you are all now the beginnings of Operation TBE. Let the battle begin!’ Jules froze, their entire body instantly tensing up at the words. But for others, there seemed to be an opposite effect. Looking around, rows and rows of other locked doors were creaking open; scared faces alike all popped their heads out of the doors while others barged through instantly. Some of them were also handicapped, their hands either restrained with zip ties or handcuffs, but many of them had bare wrists. The other young people looked at one another nervously; fear was quickly identified on those with free hands as if the bonds meant they were dangerous or something. An oppressive hush fell over the hallway, Jules could hardly count the sheer amount of people standing awkwardly beside them. The hallway seemed neverending as if millions of people had been locked away. Suddenly, a rush of movement entered the long hall, further down the corridor, a blank white door swung open, guards in all black sauntered through, carrying a variety of firearms. Fear twisted Jules’ stomach, but instead, another voice filled the hallway. This time it was feminine and clipped. ‘Hello everyone, my name is Doctor Langwiss, following the announcement before I will be briefly explaining why you are all here. War is beginning, and you have been all selected to fight in the war. Unfortunately, our enemy realised this and attacked you young people with a virus that infiltrated your minds. We were able to save you all. However, side effects of the virus included memory loss and severe aggression, as a precaution you were all placed in these cells. But now you are all clear of the virus and hope to begin training you, but first, you shall have a small medical examination before joining your groups. Thank you for your cooperation, the Earth is rooting for you.’ From all sides, the young people standing beside Jules began to file out. The armour clad soldiers were quietly escorting everyone from the hallway of cells. Like a sheep, they followed quietly through the doorway. There were a couple stops and starts as the guards removed the various handcuffs and zip ties that bounded some of their wrists together. Eventually, Jules found themselves in a large spacious room with several doors, dozens of seats filled the space. They quickly took one of the seats, their body slightly trembling. Once everyone was inside, a guard began shouting orders, ‘On your left wrist, there should be a number, this will be how we identify everyone until after the medical examinations, please be patient as we go through everyone.’ Suddenly, Jules’ wrist felt itchy, they went to scratch it but stopped when they saw the ink. Suddenly etched into their skin was a simple code, C.41.2, the code made little to no sense to Jules. But they noticed everyone else scratching their wrists and looking around in confusion. Once more, a clean and clipped voice filled the room. ‘Numbers C.1.1, C.1.2, C.1.3 and C.1.4, please enter the rooms with your codes.’ Quietly those four people left the spacious waiting area; chatter slowly cropped up as the minutes passed. Jules realised it would take hours before they would reach C.41.2, they sighed with slight annoyance, raking their hands through their bright blue hair, tousling their curls. But as the chatter rose, so did slightly hysteric voices. ‘Is anyone C.78?’ ‘Are you in C.99?’ ‘I’m C.34!’ ‘C.41? Anyone?’ Jules practically jumped out of their seat at the feminine and posh voice, scanning the room, the found a girl looking around the room. Her grey eyes met with Jules, a smirk slightly lifting her cheeks. Calmly, she made her way to them, her white hair bouncing slightly. In comparison to Jules, she was tall and willowy, with bright white hair that barely touched her shoulders, she was pale and wore black jeans and a white top, a silver septum piercing glinted through her nose. The girl smiled, holding her left wrist out for Jules to see. ‘I’m C.41.4, you?’ ‘C.41.2,’ Jules replied, ‘Do you remember anything?’ The girl shook her head slightly, ‘Aside from my name, no. My name is Clarissa, by the way, yourself?’ Before Jules could answer, a short girl came stumbling over; she had bright purple hair that had been twisted away into a plait. Her pale green eyes shone brightly as she caught the attention of both Jules and Clarissa. The girl wore a light yellow bardot top with long sleeves, blue denim shorts and black thigh high socks. She smiled at the two, exposing her left wrist. ‘Did you both say you’re C.42?’ She asked, showing them her code, C.42.4. ‘No, sorry… we’re both C.41,’ Clarissa answered, showing her wrist as well, ‘What’s your name?’ The girl’s skin heated with embarrassment, ‘Oh, uh, my name is Freya, sorry, I thought you said C.42, I haven’t found anyone in the same group yet.’ Jules smiled, ‘It’s fine, we’ll probably see each other around as our groups are close, it’s nice to meet you Freya, I’m Jules.’ ‘Well, it was nice meeting you two, but I’m going to find some people with the same group number, bye!’ Freya said hurriedly, obviously wanting to get out of the awkward conversation, ‘See you around!’ ~ Over four hours had passed since the first people disappeared into the medical rooms and yet Colin had worked out he wouldn’t be called for another half hour. They were almost into the C.40’s, and Colin had noticed the pattern that there were seven members of each group. His brown eyes scanned the small code on his wrist, C.41.1. Unlike the majority of the people in the room, he hadn’t tried to find others in C.41; he found it slightly pointless as he would eventually see them, just with a lot less effort. Colin’s mind was full of questions and a significantly smaller amount of answers; he kept trying to process the words from both the voice that followed the cell’s opening and also from Doctor Langwiss. They were Earth’s only hope; it seemed, these people were willing to cure thousands of people from a virus so that they could save the world. But save the world from who? None of it made sense to Colin. ‘Um, excuse me?’ Colin looked up slowly; he had had multiple coming up to him, asking what his code was, he typically brushed them off as their codes were rarely even close to his own. But standing in front of him was a short girl with pale skin, her left arm was outstretched, revealing her small tattoo, C.41.6. Colin was slightly surprised to find she was in his group, but also surprising that such a small girl could be made into a soldier. ‘Are you C.41 as well..?’ She asked nervously. ‘As a matter of fact, I am,’ He replied, showing her his code as well. A smile lifted her cheeks, ‘I’m Levithan, but you can call me Levi,’ Her words were rushed as nervousness took over, ‘And you are?’ ‘Colin.’ He said bluntly, ‘Have you found the other five people in our group?’ Levi blinked, ‘Five? How did you… oh, never mind. Not yet, you’re the first one!’ ‘Hooray for me,’ Colin rolled his eyes, sarcasm heavy in his tone. ‘Uh… well, do you want to help me find others? The more, the merrier…’ Levi trailed off as she saw Colin’s expression. ‘Yeah, no thanks. We’ll all meet after the examinations so I’ll pass on that.’ ‘Okay… well, see you around, Colin.’ With a nod from him, Levi skittered away, pulling her mask back onto her face, her cheeks burning with embarrassment. Levi wasn’t looking where she was going as she pushed through the crowd of people standing, she quietly murmured apologies without looking back, anxiety creeping in. Suddenly, Levi ran straight into someone, she bumped back instantly, but looking up, she saw the person in front of her barely moved. ‘I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to…’ She began, her words already muddling together. ‘It’s okay,’ They replied, a small smirk on their face. ‘Uhh, are you in C.41 by any chance?’ Levi asked, hoping the answer would be no. Instead, they raised an eyebrow, they significantly towered over her, exactly a foot taller, ‘Yes I am,’ they replied, ‘My name is Alex.’ ‘Oh… hi… Alex!’ She squeaked in reply, ‘Have you found anyone else in C.41?’ Alex shook their head, ‘No. I’ve been too busy trying to find an exit then make friends.’ ‘What..?’ ‘It doesn’t matter; I guess I’ll see you around.’ Alex said bluntly, walking off, glaring slightly at one of the guards that lined the walls. After her second awkward encounter with those in her group, Levi decided to sit down, far off from the others. The announcements were inching closer and closer to C.41, she needed to be ready for her examination. Ten minutes had passed when she saw two familiar figures rise. ‘Numbers C.41.1, C.41.2, C.41.3 and C.41.4, please enter the rooms with your codes.’ Both Alex and Colin emerged from the group of people, with two others also following them. The first one had bright blue hair and black-rimmed glasses which they nervously adjusted. The second was murmuring to the blue-headed person, her white hair shaking as she spoke animatedly. Levi began trembling with anticipation as the four disappeared through the individual doors. She, along with the other two members in C.41 would go through next as they did it by groups. Levi looked up curiously, still wondering who left was also waiting to get up next. ~ Leslie was sat waiting quietly. She was surrounded by dozens of people all talking at once, though none of them ventured to speak to her. She didn’t mind too much, only nervously rubbing her left wrist where the ink had somehow sunk into her skin. Her code was C.41.7, yet she still didn’t have any ideas what that meant. She, along with so many others, had been waiting for over two hours, but Leslie knew her turn was next. Four people all with the number C.41 had already left, leaving her and two others waiting. She nervously looked around, slightly hoping she’d be able to work out who else was C.41. She played with a strand of her brown-blonde hair, twisting it in between her fingers. ‘Numbers C.41.5, C.41.6 and C.41.7, please enter the rooms with your codes.’ Fear jolted through Leslie as she shot up from her seat, she felt dozens of eyes on her as she made her way towards the medical rooms, her head down. Dashing past her was another girl, she was several inches taller than Leslie, and her face was a small frown. She had brown hair that went just past her shoulders; her skin was pale and her eyes the shade of burnt oak. The girl ignored Leslie, pushing through the crowds to the guards who stood by the medical rooms, she pulled her sleeve up, revealing her code, C.41.5 and was led through a door. Leslie copied her actions, showing the guards her code who led her to another room. The door slammed shut; her medical examination had begun. ~ Leiko was feeling slightly irritated as she stormed into the medical room. The floors were linoleum, and the walls were white tiles, everything was scrubbed clean with such efficiency, Leiko was almost impressed. On one of the side, room was a bed, a sink and counters lined the other side of the room, and a stadiometer stood in the corner. As the door behind Leiko closed, another opened and a woman entered the room. She wore medical scrubs, a medical mask strapped to her face and gloves covering her hands. She held a clipboard and pen, which she was scribbling busily on to. Finishing off what she was writing, she looked up at Leiko. ‘Hello, C.41.5. You may take a seat here,’ The doctor began, indicating the medical bed. Leiko quietly did so, concern filling her. ‘Now, this will only be short; I will be asking you a series of questions and get you on your way to meeting your group.’ She said, her words obviously practised, ‘Let’s begin, do you remember your name?’ ‘Yes, my name is Leiko.’ ‘Do you remember your surname?’ Leiko nodded, ‘Wannabe, Leiko Wannabe.’ ‘Great,’ The woman said, writing on her clipboard, ‘Do you remember anything else other than your name?’ ‘No. I only remember my name. But that should be normal, correct? As we all have memory loss?’ The doctor only nodded, not answering Leiko’s question. ‘Now we are going to be going through your age and height, as you no doubt are curious what those are. We’ve been cautious in sorting through everyone, hence why you were identified by a code and not your name. We wanted to make sure you all knew something of yourself before putting through training. Please stand here.’ The woman indicated to the stadiometer; it was for measuring height. Leiko jumped off the bed, heading towards the stadiometer, she stood underneath it, letting the woman push the measurer on top of her head. The woman inspected the number before scribbling it onto her clipboard. ‘Thank you, Leiko, you are 5’6, and from our data on you, you are 21 years old. That is all for the medical, as you are stable and have no symptoms of the virus, your memories are coming back, so I am verifying you as medically fit to begin training. You and all the other 1,749 young adults here are a part of a project much larger than yourself. Operation TBE has been formed to save the Earth from disaster, we are operating in the Western Sector of Operation TBE, and we are in Quad C, hence why you are in Group C.41, there are 249 other groups in Quad C with seven young adults in each one. You are going to be meeting your group members now, through that door follow the hallway and find Room 41. That is where you are your group will be sleeping, you will stay there until told otherwise. Now, off you go.’ Leiko didn’t have any time to reply before she was ushered out of the room through the door the woman came in. The door clicked behind her, ahead of her was one single hallway with a large painted sign on the wall: THIS WAY. Leiko had no choice but to venture into the corridor with only small flickering lights to guide her. ‘This will be very fun, I can already tell,’ She growled, disappearing down the hallway. Spoiler: Chapter 2 Naoko watched the last three of group C.41 disappear into the medical rooms. Now all he needed to wait for was the first half of his group before it would be his turn. Naoko looked at the tiny tattoo inscribed onto his left wrist again, C.42.7. He barely grasped what it meant; he could only assume that each letter and number had a purpose. It was apparent that 42 was the group he was in, how many other groups there were he couldn’t guess, and Naoko was the seventh member of his group. He hoped there was no hierarchy involved in the numbering, that he wasn’t the weakest member. Irrational thoughts such as this filled his mind, Naoko realised that even from his memory loss, he knew that he talked to himself far more frequently than other people. It wasn’t as if he wasn’t able to verbally speak; it was just more comfortable for him to stay silent. Naoko guessed it had something to do with trust; he had frozen up when a girl sat next to him, even though she had completely ignored him, he still flinched. ‘Numbers C.42.1, C.42.2, C.42.3 and C.42.4, please enter the rooms with your codes.’ Naoko looked up to see four people stand. He saw one male and three females, the former was tall and lean, with narrow features and dark blonde hair. The tallest woman had black hair which faded into silver, dark grey eyes and stood at the same height as the male. The next two were of similar heights and significantly shorter, one had short curly brown hair, whereas the other had bright purple hair which was tied away in a plait. Naoko watched the four disappear into the medical rooms, his blood roaring in his ears. So they’re a part of my group? They don’t look like much… Then again, neither do I. He thought miserably. ~ When Emily entered the room, she was greeted with the sharp smell of disinfectant that filled the room. Waiting for her was a man in doctor’s scrubs, latex gloves and a medical mask. His eyes crinkled, smiling at her even though she couldn’t see his mouth. He held a clipboard, which he turned his attention to for a second. ‘You are C.42.3, correct?’ He asked. Emily gave a slight nod, suddenly feeling as if she couldn’t speak. ‘Excellent, you are here for a quick check-up, it shan’t take long. You may sit,’ The doctor said. ‘O-okay,’ Emily said shakily, sitting on the medical bed. ‘Alright, here are some questions, I would like you to answer truthfully.’ The doctor said, barely skipping a beat, ‘Do you remember your name, and if so, what is it?’ ‘My name is Emily.’ ‘Do you remember your surname?’ Emily blinked, ‘Yes, Sunshine.’ The doctor began writing on his clipboard, ‘Do you remember anything else?’ Emily shook her head. Not wanting to speak. ‘Alright, let’s move onto the second part of the check-up, please come to the stadiometer so I can measure your height.’ Emily slipped off the bed, walking over to stand under the stadiometer. The doctor measured her height, scribbling the digit onto his clipboard. When he was finished, Emily moved away, crossing her arms. The doctor smiled again, his green eyes shining. ‘And that concludes the physical check-up. I will now be briefly explaining to you some forgotten things about yourself and also what is to come in the future. You are medically fit to continue forward in our military program as you are clear of the virus and your memories are returning. Emily, you are 19 years old and 5’4. You’ve been taken here to participate in Operation TBE in Quad C of the Western Sector. That will be all from me; now you will be heading to your dormitory where you will meet the other six members of Group C.42.’ The doctor led Emily towards the second door in the room, he opened it for her, giving her a gentle push before slamming the door shut. She jumped instinctively, her heart still racing. Emily stood in a winding corridor with a simple marking on the wall in white paint, THIS WAY. Anxiously, she followed the sign, disappearing further into the dim lit corridor. ~ Kyo swung her legs anxiously, feeling the need to move as she waited. She found herself as a bundle of nerves, always needing to move or fidget. She twirled a strand of blue dyed hair with her finger as a way to stop herself biting her fingernails. Kyo had already spent the last two hours questioning what was going on, along with everyone else, she had a code on her left wrist, C.42.6. The first four people in C.42 had already gone through the medical rooms, she could tell her turn would be in less than a minute, her heart pounded heavily at that thought. What sort of medical examination will it be? She thought, finding herself chewing on her fingernail. With no answers to Kyo’s neverending questions, she could only push forward. ‘Numbers C.42.5, C.42.6 and C.42.7, please enter the rooms with your codes.’ She jumped up, ignoring any stares that came her way. Marching forward, she saw two others walking in her direction, one male who was barely taller than her and a female who towered over both of them. The latter had light brown hair which was messily braided up while the male had black hair and pale skin. All three of them looked as scruffy as one another, all on the verge of panicking, yet they held it together, disappearing into the medical rooms. ~ It had felt like Karter had been walking for hours when he finally emerged from the dim lit hallway. After finishing his brief medical check-up which he found was slightly pointless, Karter had been told to somehow find his group’s room; he had been walking down the winding corridor for so long he lost count of the flickering lights. But finally he found himself in a far brighter lit compound, the walls were all painted white, with decorative black and red stripes. Dozens of signs covered the walls, indicating where every dormitory was. There were three hallways, one to his left, another to his right and one directly in front of him. The signs showed him that his room was on the left, along with all the dorms ranging from C.1 to C.62. With a slight shrug, Karter headed down the hallway, his footsteps echoing loudly throughout the compound. He didn’t have to walk far as he reached Room 42. The door had no handle, only a scanner on the right side; it took Karter a moment before he stuck his left wrist under the scanner, where his code was, C.42.1. A small LED light turned green, and the door beeped, opening automatically, he stepped in quickly, letting the door shut behind him. Karter stood in a simple dormitory; there were four bunk beds, each one with one of the codes on it. The bottom bunk of C.42.7’s, however, had an empty space, where seven drawers were. On the wall opposite him, there were two doors, he opened one of them, finding a clean bathroom with a shower, sink, mirror and toilet. He guessed the second room was another bathroom. Karter strode to what seemed to be his bunk, C.42.1. Climbing up the ladder, he sat on the bed; the mattress was soft and clean, a duvet was folded up at the end of the bed along with a pillow. Karter quickly made the bed, straightening out the fabric. Just as he finished, the door slid open. ‘Oh, hi, you must be C.42.2, right?’ Karter asked. Iris walked in, her expression neutral as she surveyed the room. She made eye contact with Karter for a second before replying, ‘Yes. My name is Iris.’ She said stiffly. ‘It’s nice to meet you, I’m Karter,’ He replied, silently questioning how quickly it will take before the conversation becomes awkward. Iris nodded, ending the conversation. She opened both of the doors on the far wall; both were identical bathrooms. She then checked the drawers on the bottom section of the fourth bunk bed. Iris pulled out a folded pile of clothing from the second drawer, slightly showing it to Karter. ‘Uniform, all of them have one. I assume we have to change into them.’ ‘Oh, right, I didn’t notice,’ Karter said, his face getting warm, ‘Thanks.’ Iris shrugged, grabbing the cargo trousers, navy blue top and polished black boots she headed toward one of the bathrooms, clicking the door shut. When he was alone, Karter sighed heavily; he had hoped his first impressions would be better than that. Suddenly, the door slid open, and two young women walked in. They were both short and seemed more at ease with the situation as they were together. Emily and Freya looked around the dormitory, Emily’s were eyes drawn to Karter who sat up from where he laid on his bunk bed. He tried to give an encouraging smile at the two of them. ‘Hi, I’m Karter, and you are..?’ ‘Freya and this is Emily,’ Freya said, ‘Isn’t someone else meant to be here? I’m C.42.4, and Emily is C.42.3.’ Karter nodded, ‘Yeah, Iris is in the bathroom getting changed, there are uniforms in those drawers,’ He pointed at the seven drawers. Just as he finished speaking, Iris exited the bathroom, the uniform she wore fit her perfectly, shoes and all. She had also found hairbands in the bathroom and decided to brush her black hair into a simple ponytail. She saw Emily and Freya, giving them a small nod before heading over to her bunk where she began making her bed. The awkward silence was broken by Emily, trying to her hide her nervousness, she started asking questions. ‘So, what did they tell you? In the medical?’ Karter shrugged, ‘Just my age and height, which I’m 20 years old and 5’10, they gave you that small rundown of why we’re here, right?’ Freya nodded, ‘We met up after walking down that long hallway, I’m still the youngest then, I’m 18, also the shortest.’ ‘I’m only an inch taller though; I’m 5’4 and 19. What about you, Iris?’ Emily asked. She barely looked up as she answered, ‘5’10, 21.’ ‘Hm, well we better get changed, huh?’ Freya said, walking over to the drawers and opening the fourth one where she pulled out identical clothing of what Iris wore. Emily followed suit, grabbing the uniform from the third drawer, the two disappeared into the bathrooms, leaving Karter and Iris in silence as they waited for their next group members. ~ Charlotte scanned the walls of the building she stood in. After walking for over ten minutes, she had reached the end of the hallway she’d been pushed into by the doctor. Eventually, she found the sign reading ‘Rooms C.1 - C.62’and began heading in that direction. Suddenly a voice filled her ears. ‘Hey, can you wait up!?’ Looking behind her, Charlotte found a young woman with bright blue pigtails panting slightly. Charlotte stopped, letting her catch her breath before speaking. ‘Sorry… you’re in C.42, right? She asked. ‘Yeah, I’m Charlotte.’ ‘Oh good! My name is Kyo; it’s nice to meet you, I had been running down that hallway for ages.’ ‘You ran..?’ Kyo nodded, ‘If I knew that was how long the corridor was, I probably would have just jogged.’ ‘Oh well, our dorm is this way.’ The two headed down the left corridor; they passed dozens of empty dormitories in silence. Eventually, the two reached Room 42. At this point, the other dorms were full as chatter could be heard from inside. Charlotte dipped her wrist into the scanner on Room 42’s door, automatically opening it, Kyo followed suit, so that it wouldn’t shut her out. ‘Welcome!’ Freya called jovially from where she sat. Emily waved in greeting, though didn’t speak, the two of them wore matching cargo trousers and a navy blue top. Hiding away in her bunk was Iris, who barely reacted to Kyo and Charlotte’s arrival. ‘Just one more to go and then all seven of us will be here!’ Freya cried, surprisingly giddy. ‘Seven..? But there’s only five of us here.’ Charlotte asked. ‘Karter’s getting changed,’ Emily murmured, ‘We all have uniforms.’ ‘Do you know who the last person may be?’ Freya asked. While Charlotte shook her head, Kyo nodded hers, ‘Yeah I saw him just before we went for our check-up, he’s short and has black hair.’ ‘Good to know! You guys should probably get changed into the uniforms, after all this is a military base and we’re the soldiers, right?’ Freya said, playing with a strand of purple hair. ‘Guess so; I’ll change first! My name is Kyo, by the way,’ She said, grabbing the pile of clothing from her drawer and slipping into the unoccupied bathroom. Charlotte found her bunk bed and climbed up onto the soft mattress. She almost slipped when climbing up the ladder, she cringed internally, gripping tightly onto the metal frame. Her clumsiness had been obvious the second she left the padded cell, she continuously bumped into people and almost smacked her head on the door into the medical room. It made her question why on earth she’d been selected to complete the military program. Charlotte also wondered why the others were there too. ‘So, why do you guys think we’ve been put here?’ ‘What do you mean?’ Freya replied. ‘Well, we were specifically chosen to fight in this massive war, so there must be something special or at least impressive about us, right? They couldn’t have just grabbed a bunch of random people, especially as we were attacked with that virus. Whoever we’re up against also thinks we’re capable of fighting, so we must be some threat, huh?’ Charlotte said, her words rushing out. ‘I guess..? Though it doesn’t look like any of us are very good fighters, just normal people.’ Before anyone else could interject, Karter exited the bathroom, wearing his uniform as well. ‘Did I miss anything? Oh, hey, you must be C.41.5, huh?’ He asked Charlotte. She opened her mouth to speak, but the door to the dormitory slid open, revealing a scrawny male. His black hair was slightly spiked up; brown eyes dashed around the room, anxiousness and distrust filling him. They gave him friendly smiles, yet his heart sped up, it felt wrong for Naoko to trust anyone. ‘Hi, are you C.41.6?’ Karter asked. ‘Actually, Kyo is already here!’ Charlotte said, ‘You didn’t get to meet her, but she’s in the bathroom, I’m Charlotte.’ ‘Oh, makes sense,’ Karter replied, before turning back to the newcomer, ‘What’s your name?’ Naoko simply shook his head, his hands shaking. He never talked, wouldn’t talk, he sometimes felt like he couldn’t speak. Even those Naoko could trust, he still rarely spoke to them. Instead, his eyes dashed all over the room, until he spotted a pad of paper on what he guessed was his bed. He raced over, grabbing the pad and pen, scribbling words quickly before showing the note to them all. I can’t talk, okay? But my name is Naoko. Sorry. ‘Oh… it’s fine, Naoko, my name is Karter. And this is Iris, Emily, Freya and Charlotte,’ Karter said calmly, ‘You’re part of our group, you don’t need to apologise for something you can’t help.’ Naoko mouthed ‘thanks’, while the rest of the group murmured welcomes and other greetings. Kyo eventually burst back into the dormitory, she had changed into her uniform and readjusted her pigtails as well. She gave Naoko a bright smile before jumping onto her bed, Freya began introducing everyone to Kyo while Charlotte disappeared into the bathroom. After five minutes of chatting, a voice silenced the dorm. ‘Attention! Groups C.41 and C.42 report to the hangar in 10 minutes! Tardiness is not acceptable, and you should all be in the uniforms provided in your dormitories. If you are not in the hangar in 10 minutes, you may face punishment.’ Spoiler: Chapter 3 Colin's footsteps echoed on the clean panelled floor as he ventured further into the military base he assumed was his new home. He'd been bluntly instructed by his check-up doctor to find his living quarters, Room 41. A task he luckily found quite easy, the winding corridor was simple to follow, and when he eventually arrived at the junction to the rooms, Colin took a left as the signs told him to do so. He was marching down the hallway when he sensed someone walking up behind him, letting them walk ahead where they stopped at the door. He silently watched as they nervously stuck their hand into the reader before slipping into the room. Curious, Colin walked up to the now shut door, he was disappointed to find the number was not 41 but rather 40. He realised that everyone's arrival at their dorms was staggered and whoever that was was the last group member of C.40, while he was the first of C.41. With a sigh, he turned to his own living quarters, Room 41. Copying the actions of the C.40 member, Colin exposed his tattooed wrist to the reader, where it blinked green, and the door slid open. The room was plain and a standard dormitory, four bunk beds lined the walls to his left and right. Directly ahead of him were two shut doors that were revealed to be identical bathrooms. No one else was in the room as Colin had guessed, and so he began examining the dorm, figuring his bed was the top bunk of one of the closest beds to the door. Climbing up, he sank onto the soft mattress, sighing quietly as he waited impatiently for his dormmates. As if on cue, the door slid openly quietly and came scurrying in was Jules, their curly hair was hopelessly tousled, and their glasses kept slipping off the bridge of their nose. Jules gave Colin a nervous smile before talking quickly. ‘Hi! I’m Jules, has anyone else arrived, or is it just you?’ Colin shrugged, ‘Just me, I’m C41.1, so it makes sense, ‘cause you’re C.41.2, right?’ ‘Hm, true. Clarissa should arrive after the next person then!' Jules replied, with a smile on their face, ‘By the way, I'm agender, so please use they/them pronouns, thanks.' They added politely. Colin nodded, ‘Sure, name’s Colin.’ ‘It’s nice to meet you, have you met any of the other people in our group?’ ‘Yeah, someone called Levi, she talked to me for a bit, but other than that, nope.’ ‘Well, we will all become acquainted soon!' Jules chirped, eyes dancing across the room as they inspected everything. The door slid open once more, entering was Alex, their stature practically dwarfed Jules’ who was still standing near the door. ‘Sup, I’m Alex.’ Colin raised an eyebrow at them, but greeted them nonetheless. Before Jules could speak, the door slid open again. A smile instantly broke out on their face when the newcomer popped in. ‘Looks like I was right,’ Clarissa said cheerfully, a small smirk on her face, ‘Jules!’ ‘Hi Clarissa, how’d you get here so fast?’ She shrugged, ‘You can call me Clary by the way. And I’m known for walking fast, I saw…. You?’ Clary’s eyes flashed with slight recognition as she turned to Alex, who wasn’t looking her way. She blinked quickly, brushing it off, guessing her memories were trying to creep back into her brain. She paused only for a second before talking again, ‘Yeah I just followed them, hence why I got here quicker than probably estimated.’ ‘Well, that’s Colin,’ Jules pointed to the top bunk where Colin gave a slight wave, ‘And that’s Alex.’ ‘Pleasure to meet you all.’ ‘Hey, are you British?’ Colin asked, uncaring of the blunt question. Clary blinked again, once again remembering things, ‘Yes, most likely, why do you ask?’ ‘This is the Western Sector, and everyone else here is American, so only people from the west of the world are here, so why are you here?’ She lightly shrugged, unconcerned at his questions, ‘I must have been around at the time, it seems to be about the area and not nationality, no?' Colin sighed, ‘Whatever.’ Clary smiled, believing it was an argument she won. Jules had watched the two talk as if it was a tennis game, their head turning every time one of them spoke. However, Alex wasn’t paying much attention to their conversation, for they were focused on Clary, recognition froze them on the spot, but everything else was hazy. Alex turned away quickly, pretending they were looking around the room and ignoring everyone. Jules decided to explore the rest of the dormitory, disappearing into one of the bathrooms and locking the door. Alex saw the set of drawers, raising an eyebrow, they went to inspect one of the seven when the front door slid open, and a woman stormed in. ‘Hi.’ Leiko said bluntly, looking up and down everyone else in the room before examining the beds. ‘And you are..?’ Colin asked, unsure whether or not he wanted to know the answer. ‘Leiko.' She replied bluntly, ‘I'm not here to make friends and to get to know you all, so it would be appreciated if you would not ask any more of me.' Alex smirked, ‘Finally,’ They muttered, ‘Someone I can relate to.’ ‘Well, that’s comforting,’ Clary said lightly, ‘We’re off to a good start.’ Colin sighed loudly, pressing his fingers to temples. The bathroom door reopened, and Jules popped out, clueless to the conversation. ‘Oh hi! Did you just get here?’ They asked, ready to ask a bunch more questions. ‘Don’t, just don’t,’ Clary said cheerfully, ‘This is Leiko, and well, she isn’t one for conversations…’ As she trailed off, the dormitory door slid open soundlessly. The five present looked up from their bickering to see Levi awkwardly stand by the door, confusion and wonder in her eyes. She was frozen, mesmerised by the room and those standing in it. Levi blinked before stepping through. However, her small pause meant the door began to shut, almost catching her. She yelped, expecting to get squished by the door. However, Alex's reaction was faster than the shutting door, they grabbed ahold of it, keeping it open for a second longer. Levi’s face warmed with embarrassment and gratitude as she slipped through, ‘T-thank you!’ She cried, watching Alex move their hand. ‘It's fine.' Their expression was neutral as if they hadn't performed a feat which bewildered everyone in the room. Clary couldn’t help smirking as she strode towards Levi, ‘Welcome, to group C.41, where I’m pretty sure no one is sane.’ ‘T-that’s fun…’ Levi trailed off, scratching the back of her head but smiling, ‘I can’t wait to get to know you all. My name is Levi.’ Leiko sighed heavily, climbing up onto her bunk bed, hoping to make no interactions with the group. She found it disturbing how ready everyone was to talk as if their situation was typical. She began wondering if she was the only one thinking rationally but knew not to ask, she was quite well at reading people, and although they were all acting sweet and polite, Leiko knew they all had underlying hostility within them. Finally, the door slid open for the last time, jumping quickly into the room was Leslie. A smile was on her face as she met her grey-blue eyes with the group who all turned towards her. Leslie opened her mouth to speak after the door slid shut behind her, but then a voice filled the room. ‘Attention! Groups C.41 and C.42 report to the hangar in 10 minutes! Tardiness is not acceptable, and you should all be in the uniforms provided in your dormitories. If you are not in the hangar in 10 minutes, you may face punishment.’ The newcomer, Leslie, was instantly forgotten as the announcement ended. The dormitory dissolved into panicked chatter and questions. ‘Uniforms?!!’ ‘What sort of punishment?’ ‘I hate all of you.’ ‘No, seriously, WHAT UNIFORMS?’ ‘Are you guys okay..?’ Everyone bustled around, aside from Colin who had his head in his hands and Leiko who rolled her eyes. Clary was checking under the duvet and pillow folded up at the end of her bed in search of the uniforms. Alex had retreated to their bunk bed, a smirk on their face. Levi's legs began shaking to the point that she collapsed to the floor, her eyes started wondering the room, trying to help but not succeeding. Leslie still stood by the door, taken aback by the sudden explosion of movement from the group, she didn't know anything about anyone there except they were all panicking. ‘Oh, I found the uniforms!’ Jules cried cheerfully, their hand on the drawers. Surprisingly, Leiko was the fastest of the seven, leaping off her bunk bed, wrenching open her drawer and grabbing her uniform before disappearing into a bathroom. Clary followed suit, picking up her shirt, trousers and boots and leaving. Colin grabbed his uniform and sat on his bed. Fortunately, there was a curtain attachment to the bed, swinging it shut, he began to change. The majority of the group was changed when another announcement could be heard in the dormitory. ‘Attention! Groups C.41 and C.42 you have five minutes before you are expected in the hangar if you have not left yet, pick up the pace.' ‘So what’s your name?’ Clary asked, pushing her fingers through her hair, ‘We never got to ask thanks to those announcements.’ ‘My name is Leslie,’ She replied, adjusting her ponytail. ‘It’s nice to meet you, I’m Clary, that is Colin,’ She said pointing at a now dressed Colin, ‘Leiko is the one who is still in the bathroom, Alex has the purple hair, Jules is the one with blue hair, and Levi is in the other bathroom.' ‘Oh, good to know.’ They all stood around the dormitory; everyone aside from Leiko and Levi was changed into their uniform; navy blue short-sleeved t-shirts, green cargo trousers and black polished leather boots. Both Alex and Leslie had their hair tied up while everyone else's hair was too short. ‘We really need to get going; you know that right?' Colin interjected the conversation, ‘None of us even know where this hangar is and we have less than five minutes to find it!' Clary began stretching her arms, ‘Well, I hope you can run.’ A smirk already on her face. ‘I’m being serious.’ ‘And so am I, we're not abandoning those two… well, not Levi, she waited very patiently. Leiko on the other hand, I'm not too sure. But we'll get there; it shouldn't be too far.' ‘You’re being too optimistic, Clary.’ ‘That’s not always a bad thing,’ She replied happily. ‘I’m ready!’ Levi cried, rushing out of the bathroom, ‘Sorry about waiting. Are we going now?’ Colin rolled his eyes, ‘Not when someone is taking their sweet time, HURRY UP LEIKO.’ ‘You guys can head on, I’ll wait for her,’ Alex said, who was leaning on the wall, ‘I can probably unlock that door if she takes any longer.’ ‘Well, that's a plan! Let's go.' Clary said, still smiling. They all waved farewell to Alex who simply nodded, their arms crossed. Colin took the lead of the group, jogging slowly back the way they came. ‘Any ideas where this hangar is?’ He asked everyone. ‘I'm guessing through the third corridor,' Clary replied, who had caught up him easily, ‘After the medical, there were three corridors, one leading down here, the other to the second set of dorms and the third..?' ‘It’s the hangar!’ ~ ‘It seems, C.41, is already one minute late, exactly!’ Commander Ozera barked loudly, making the majority of C.42 flinch. He was in his mid-forties, deep wrinkles decorated his tanned skin. A small layer of black stubble resided on his chin and neck, a scar on Commander Ozera's neck obscured his tan complexion slightly. He was tall, standing at 6'3 and was powerfully built. His cold blue eyes surveyed the group C.42 silently. They had all arrived several moments before, where they all lined up in order of their codes, Karter stood at the start with Naoko at the end. The group was already dressed and ready by the time the first announcement filled their dormitory, giving them plenty of time to reach the hangar on time. Ozera’s face was unreadable as he stood in silence, no one dared to breathe too loudly in his presence. Echoing footsteps suddenly filled the spacious area of the hangar, Clary’s bright white hair was the first thing anyone saw as the majority of C.41 dashed into the room. ‘And finally, you have all decided to join us…’ Ozera began, before trailing, ‘Well, not all apparently. Where are the last two? Did they get lost?’ ‘They’re running behind, sir,’ Colin said, keeping his tone normal, ‘We apologise for being late.’ ‘An apology isn’t good enough,’ Ozera said dangerously, ‘Get in line, in order of your codes, now.’ They all lined up quietly while Ozera paced back and forth in front of the two lines. It was a minute later, much to his dislike, that Alex and Leiko came running into the hangar. C.41 moved to the side, letting the two slip into their spots in silence. A moment passed before Ozera began his speech. ‘So, you’re late! We are over two minutes behind, behaviour such as this is unacceptable, after this meetup, group C.41 shall be facing punishment, as warned beforehand. But enough of that, my name is Commander Ozera, I am the leader of these two groups. You shall all be working together so you'll need to work as one unit, failure to do so will hinder your results in the trials. As you know, we are preparing for war, and before the virus, you all willingly signed up to join in the fight. From this day forward, you are soldiers, and you shall be training every day to hone your skills and win this war. You will be spending a year doing so with everyone here, and after these 365 days, the trials will begin. There are four sectors of this operation, Northern, Eastern, Southern and Western. Only 1,000 groups out of these four sectors will be successful in the trials. If you fail, you shall be sent back to your homes, and will be a civilian once more.' Everyone stared at him in stunned silence, the information he barked out was difficult to absorb. Ozera gave both of the groups a second to think about what he said before continuing. ‘As your commander, I don't particularly care for your names. Your civilian names are for if you fail if the enemy knows your names, they will exploit it. Therefore, I will be giving you all nicknames based on information you gave us before the virus and information we collected after you signed up.' He marched up to Group C.41, holding a clipboard and staring down Colin who stared back. Ozera directed his attention to the clipboard, muttering words under his breath as he began thinking of a name. An unkind smile lifted the corners of his mouth as Ozera took in the information, with one last look over, he met eyes with Colin once more. ‘Codename: Ocean.’ Colin didn't understand how to respond, only opening his mouth and closing it again. Ozera did not wait for his reaction and simply turned to Jules, where he gave them a once over as well before giving their name. ‘Codename: Truth.’ Ozera was clearly enjoying the bewildered looks he was being given; he was the only one who understood why they fitted the names. And when they'd finally figure it out, Ozera would be further amused. ‘C.41.3, Codename: Omega.’ Alex gave a small nod, accepting the new name. ‘C.41.4, speak.’ ‘Hello… sir?’ Clary replied. Ozera grinned, ‘Codename: Queenie.’ He moved on, leaving Clary confused. Ozera began reading through the clipboard once more, looking at Leiko for a second. ‘Codename: Snitch.’ Leiko’s face remained expressionless, but inside she felt disgusted. She had no idea what sort of information they had on her to come up with such a name. Dread filled Leiko as she questioned if she was the one who told them that she was a snitch. Next was Levi, who was trembling uncontrollably as Ozera made his way towards her. Even without looking directly at her, he could feel Levi's fear. He put the clipboard away, letting physical attributes make up her name. ‘Codename: Cat.’ As in scaredy cat. Levi though meekly, averting her eyes. Ozera moved on swiftly to the last member of C.41, Leslie, who stared blankly ahead to avoid his oppressive stare. Inside, her heart was pounding heavily, and she felt that her breathing had quickened, she gave one glance towards Ozera, whose eyes were scanning the page in front of him. He glanced at her, giving her a once-over before speaking. ‘I don’t advise wearing that necklace during training. Codename: June.’ Leslie clutched the necklace, almost forgetting that she was wearing it. She silently guessed that the gemstone had something to do with her codename, but she didn't ask. ‘And that concludes the codenames of C.41, Ocean, Truth, Omega, Queenie, Snitch, Cat and June. Time to decide C.42’s…’ Spoiler: Chapter 4 Commander Ozera strode towards C.42, all of whom were waiting silently. He flipped through the pages on his clipboard, each one detailing the young adults that stood before him. It was information that he seemed to enjoy keeping to himself, he took relish in the lack of understanding from C.41 and knew that the unnamed members in front of him would also feel the same. Karter was first in line, unknown to everyone around him; his insides were churning. The scrutinising cold eyes of Ozera made him feel almost insignificant, and while the codenames already given out didn’t seem to harsh, Karter still feared the worst. ‘Show me your left wrist,’ Ozera demanded his attention finally away from the clipboard. Karter did so, on the inside of his wrist was a tattoo of a bird. Next to that image was his code, both of which confused him still. He let Ozera examine the bird tattoo before turning away. ‘Codename: Robin.’ Beside Karter was Iris, although she was blankly staring into the distance, concern was etched into her brow. She felt as if she’d been in a similar situation before, that she was put in lines and shouted at as Ozera was doing. Her memories seemed to be submerged, she could not remember anything yet still found the familiarity of it all, but usually, something worse would come after the shouting. Pins and needles filled her left leg as if the prosthetic had something to do with this chilling feeling. ‘You look like you’re about to cry,’ Ozera hissed in Iris’ ear, he didn’t bother looking at the clipboard as he already decided her name, ‘Codename: Sorrow.’ Iris blinked, remembering the warm tears that had flooded her eyes when she first awoke in the padded cell. She thought she had hidden that emotional flaw in her, yet it seemed Ozera could see through her emotionless illusion. Third in the line was Emily, she wasn’t very enthusiastic either about the codenames. The brief moment of tearful fear that filled Iris’ face sent shivers down Emily’s spine. Ozera towered over her, barely glancing at her before turning his attention to the clipboard. A scoff was all the members of C.41 and C.42 could hear as Ozera continued examining the paper. ‘What a pathetic surname,’ He murmured so that only Emily could hear, ‘Codename: Solar.’ She swallowed, barely nodding as he walked on. Freya’s lip wobbled ever so slightly as Ozera stood over her. Just like Iris, he paid no attention to the clipboard he held, rather narrowing his eyes on her. More specifically at her hair, the majority of it was plaited away, yet strands of bright purple still slipped out. Freya had removed the flowers that had originally decorated her hair, leaving them in a haphazard pile in her assigned drawer. ‘Disturbing choice,’ He muttered indicating her hair’s hue, ‘One that won’t stick around. Codename: Plums.’ Freya’s face heated up at the codename, self consciously, she tugged at her purple hair, looking at the ground in embarrassment. Standing beside her was Charlotte, her dark blue eyes met with Ozera’s icy blue, who looked down at her. After giving her physical profile a once over, he turned to the clipboard, devouring the information on the board to find something worth noting about her. Charlotte kept her eyes on his, even when glanced at the paper to decide her name. ‘Codename: Arrow.’ Ozera said bluntly. He stepped away from Charlotte, now facing Kyo, who was twiddling her ponytail and looking it at the ground. Her legs were shaking ever so slightly, jitters filling her bones. Ozera examined paper, smirking unkindly at the full synopsis of her past. With that information, he decided her name. ‘Codename: Princess.’ A flash of memory filled Kyo’s mind at his final word. Large gowns covered in lace and silken fabric became oddly familiar to her, but the memory disappeared from her mind as quickly as it entered it. Her face fell, the light of understanding diminishing. ‘Last, and potentially the least, you.’ Ozera continued speaking, standing over Naoko who bleakly looked up at him. He scanned the text on the clipboard, before looking back at Naoko. ‘You’re the one who doesn’t speak, correct?’ Naoko nodded, swallowing down bile. ‘Codename: Silent,’ Ozera declared, ‘Which finally concludes all your new names, with C.42 being, Robin, Sorrow, Solar, Plums, Arrow, Princess and Silent. You all need to remember these names, including one another, as I already said, I don’t care for your civilian names. You’re soldiers, my soldiers, and you will not disappoint me. C.42, return to your dormitory, there you should have been given your timetables as devised by myself. Do not be late for it.’ The seven members of C.42 all nodded meekly, which enraged Ozera. ‘Salute! You’re soldiers, act like it!’ ‘Yes, sir!’ They all cried, aside from Naoko, who just saluted along with the others. With a small nod of affirmation from their commander, C.42 filed out quietly. By the times they had all cleared the hangar and were back in the hallway heading towards their dormitory, chatter bubbled out of them. ‘WELL THAT WAS TERRIFYING!’ Kyo screamed, her arms now shaking, ‘He was so mean!’ ‘We’ll have to get used to it, though,’ Karter returned, scratching the back of his neck, ‘But at least we got there on time, the commander didn’t look too happy after dismissing us. Emily nodded, ‘The announcement said we’d face punishment if we’re late… I wonder what he has in plans for them…’ She trailed off, leaving the group in slightly stunned silence. ‘Let’s just get back to the dorm,’ Karter said encouragingly, ‘He won’t do anything too bad to them if he expects us to become soldiers.’ ‘Right!’ Freya cried. The seven continued walking down the corridor until they reached their dormitory, C.42, they all had to individually place their arms into the reader so the door wouldn’t slam on them. It seemed that nothing had changed in the room, only some of the beds were made as neither Naoko, Charlotte or Kyo had time to make them and the bathroom doors were closed. However, Iris noted one difference, her grey eyes spotted the white cards placed neatly on each of their drawers. While everyone retreated to their beds, she strode towards the drawers, picking up her own card she noticed that it had a digital screen. And as Ozera had confirmed, she found that it was her timetable. 6:00 am - Get up, complete chores and dormitory inspections 7:00 am - Morning drills - HANGAR 8:00 am - Breakfast - MESS HALL 9:00 am - Combat training - SPARRING HALLS 10:00 am - Weapons training - WEAPONRY 11:00 am - Agility training - GYMNASIUM 12:00 pm - Afternoon drills - HANGAR 13:00 pm - Lunch - MESS HALL 14:00 pm - Intelligence operatives - OPERATIONS HEADQUARTERS 15:00 pm - Endurance training - GYMNASIUM 16:00 pm - Shooting practice - SHOOTING RANGE 17:00 pm - Simulations - OPERATIONS HEADQUARTERS 18:00 pm - Evening drills - HANGAR 19:00 pm - Dinner - MESS HALL 20:00 pm - Team building exercises - HANGAR 21:00 pm - Free time - QUAD C 22:00 pm - Lights out Iris questioned whether or not to tell the others; it felt easier to her talking one on one as she had done when she found the uniforms. But announcing to the large group of quite chatty and excitable people make her anxious. Instead, she continued scanning the card before placing it back in the drawer. Iris glanced around the room once more and noticed there was an analogue clock on the wall. According to the ticking hands, it was twenty-past six, meaning dinner was soon. Naoko also noticed the digital cards on the drawers, as they were directly underneath his bed. He only went down to check after Iris had retreated into the bathroom. Naoko had climbed down from his bunk and picked up the seventh card. Unsurprisingly, the timetables were all identical as they were all in the same group, yet he questioned if C.41’s would be any different to their own. Anxiously he waved his arm to the rest of the group members, trying to get their attention. So far, everyone seemed sweet to him, but dread still filled him as he waited for their responses. Karter was the first to notice Naoko’s timid wave, he jumped off his bunk bed and strode towards him. Before Karter could ask anything, Naoko handed him the digital card that was on the first drawer. Karter scanned through the information before tucking it into his back pocket. ‘Thanks, Naoko,’ He said appreciatively, ‘We aren’t the most observant it turns out.’ Karter turned to the rest of the group, gathering their attention with a shout, ‘Hey! We got our schedules; you probably want to check ‘em out.’ Freya bounded off her bed first, despite being the shortest of C.42, she grabbed her card before the rest did. She looked at the text in front of her before breaking out in complaint. ‘Get up at 6:00 am? Chores?? We just got here! Shouldn’t we have a rest first?’ Charlotte stood next to her, also holding her card, ‘I’m guessing this is our rest, Commander Ozera doesn’t seem very keen to let us have a break. So we’ll have to suck it up, sadly.’ Freya continued grumbling, pocketing the card and slumping onto her bed. She still hadn’t made her bed, instead of leaving the duvet and pillow folded up in the corner and she sank onto the mattress. A thought suddenly sprang into her mind, and she lifted herself up, shock on her face. ‘Wait, so we're following the schedule now or what? When are we eating?? I’m hoping soon.’ ‘I’d guess we follow the last bit of it, according to that clock, it’s half six, so we should head to the mess hall soon… wherever that is....’ Emily trailed away, her mind had instantly gone to the logistics of the situation, but when everyone began looking her way, self-consciousness filled her. Kyo shrugged, a smile on her face, ‘Let’s do that then!’ ~ ‘LATE! ALL OF YOU! WHAT DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND ABOUT BEING ON TIME?’ Ozera roared, spit flying from his mouth, ‘This behaviour is never tolerated, I don’t care that you are acting like mindless children, but this is war. To send that home to you all, for the next week, your timetables will be skewed. Now get out!’ ‘Yes… sir,’ The members of C.41 said quietly, many of them cringing back at his harsh words. They all trailed out, heads down and arms behind their backs. Even when they had left the hangar, they all walked in silence. None of them could particularly grasp what had happened, the shouting of Ozera still rang sharply in their ears. By the time they entered Room 41, conversation slowly began to bubble up. ‘So… what now?’ Leslie asked as she looked at the defeated faces of her group members. Clary shrugged, ‘Let’s at least find out what our punishment is, any clues where these timetables are?’ Alex replied, ‘Here, and it’s not good.’ Colin swept up the digital card on his drawer and read aloud the timetable which had been obviously recently edited. 5:00 am - Get up, complete chores and dormitory inspections. 6:00 am - Sprints - HANGAR 7:00 am - Morning drills - HANGAR 8:00 am - Breakfast - MESS HALL 9:00 am - Combat training - SPARRING HALLS 10:00 am - Weapons training - WEAPONRY 11:00 am - Agility training - GYMNASIUM 12:00 pm - Afternoon drills - HANGAR 13:00 pm - Lunch - MESS HALL 14:00 pm - Intelligence operatives - OPERATIONS HEADQUARTERS 15:00 pm - Endurance training - GYMNASIUM 16:00 pm - Shooting practice - SHOOTING RANGE 17:00 pm - Simulations - OPERATIONS HEADQUARTERS 18:00 pm - Evening drills - HANGAR 19:00 pm - Dinner - MESS HALL 20:00 pm - Team building exercises - HANGAR 21:00 pm - Extra chores 22:00 pm - Lights out After reading out the list he pointed out one more thing, ‘The 5 am wake up, 6 am sprints and 9 pm extra chores are underlined… guess they’re our punishments....’ ~ Just as the clock struck 7 pm, the same voice that had ordered both C.41 and C.42 to the hangar filled all the dormitories in the Western Sector. It was clean and clipped and lacked any emotion. ‘Attention, Western Sector, the timetables in your dormitories are going into effect starting now. Please head to the Mess Hall for dinner. The signs at the intersection of the living quarters shall lead the way.’ Freya smiled, ‘Looks like you were right… Solar.’ Spoiler: Chapter 5 The entirety of Quad C began to flood the mess hall; it was located beside the hangar, where each group had met their individual commanders. They were of similar sizes, with plenty of room to fit the one thousand seven hundred and fifty young adults that now resided in Quad C. Both C.41 and C.42 were a part of the crowd which headed towards the mess hall. It was a large rectangular room filled majorly with rows and rows of tables and benches. At the far end, a large kitchen area was set up, along with seven buffet-style food areas where many people were lining up and collecting food. Each table had a code on the end of it, indicating which groups would sit where C.41 and C.42 were somewhere in the middle of the two hundred fifty tables that filled the hall. The two groups joined the waiting queue which was moving on quite rapidly. It took around five minutes before Levi had grabbed her meal of a jacket potato with baked beans and assorted vegetables. She had rushed to the mess hall first, as she feared another for lashing of punishments. Luckily, the rest of C.41 followed behind her, and none of them were late. Charlotte was the last of C.42 to sit down at their table, for the entire group was early. She sat beside Naoko who was silently pushing his peas around on the plate. He’d began remembering things that made his insides twist, shouting jeers pounded through his head, many linking to his sexuality as he identified as being pansexual. He couldn’t pinpoint any faces, only voices filled with hatred towards him. Naoko fidgeted slightly in his seat before shoving a potato in his mouth and wondered anxiously what the others were remembering. The mess hall was filled with loud chatter; surprisingly there was the occasional chorus of laughter. Iris felt it odd to hear so many laughs, then she remembered her new name as given by Ozera, Sorrow, and felt a shiver go down her spine. The only conversation that was being held on C.42’s table was by Emily and Freya, who chatted feverishly about utter nonsense and questions they had no answers to. The other five remained in silence, swallowing their food as they processed through their own thoughts. C.41 was almost the opposite, as the majority of the table was chatting more than eating. Snarky comebacks filled the air as Colin, Alex and Clary began arguing with one another. However, Leslie and Levi were having more sensible conversations which did not include raising their voices which Jules joined. However, Leiko sat in silence, stabbing her potato until it was nothing but mush, even then she stabbed at the peas. She hadn't told anyone why she made everyone so late to the hangar for she found it almost embarrassing. She remembered her old self, a girl always alone, who was weak which left her to be picked on. It had felt like a slap across the face when the memories broke through as she stood in the bathroom. Now, Leiko's face was expressionless, no one needed to know, nor did she want anyone to know. An hour later, the young adults who were sat in the mess hall cleared out, leaving nothing but fallen food and discarded eating trays. Karter checked his digital card once more and then the clock that hung on the wall. It was almost 8 pm, which was when C.41 and C.42’s first training session was beginning. The task seemed simple enough to Karter, Team-building exercises, but when he saw Commander Ozera storm into the hangar, he began to second-guess himself. The man appeared to have a permanent glare on his face, which created all the deep wrinkles that decorated his skin. The hangar was a large area that had the capacity of the one thousand seven hundred and fifty young adults that inhabited Quad C. There were around thirty other groups also standing in the hangar, Karter made the quick guess that they also had team-building at that time. The room was pretty plain, lines covered the concrete floors below them, indicating marching lines or sections of the hangar. There were no windows, only fluorescent lights hummed above them on the vaulted ceiling. Karter questioned why on earth the ceiling was so high; discouraging thoughts filled his mind as he imagined Ozera somehow throwing him seven feet in the air as a team-building exercise. ‘Attention! Get in line!’ The commander yelled, his back straight. The muddled up C.41 and C.42 quickly arranged themselves in two separate lines in descending order of their codes. Emily sheepishly saluted, unsure whether or not Ozera would want it. The rest of the thirteen, however, followed her lead until the commander nodded, letting them all relax. He began walking up and down in front of the two groups while shouting. ‘As a taster of your new lives as soldiers, you shall be participating in team-building exercises, a rather tame training session out of the multiple tasks you will be completing. Simply put, you will all learn how to work together as a team, both in your separate groups but also eventually as a collective. Failure to do so will worsen your chances of succeeding in the trials. Tonight we shall be executing a simple game of capture the flag. You will be in your groups, with C.41 as the red flag and C.42 as the blue flag. Understand?’ ‘Yessir!’ ‘Then we shall be heading to the outdoor arena, follow me!’ Ozera finished, marching away from the group to the far end of the hangar. The fourteen young adults hurried after him and struggled to keep up as his stride was much larger than theirs. At the end of the hangar were a set of double doors, which Ozera opened with a flourish, inside revealed a winding corridor in which many other entries led off to unknown areas. Walking past a couple of the doors, Charlotte noticed small symbols on each grey door; one had an image of a gun and paint splatters while another had a small device that closely resembled a bomb. Ozera stopped at the door with two flags as the symbol, one red and one blue. Next to each door was a scanner similar to the ones in front of every dormitory, the commander placed his hand on the device, where it read his fingerprints and unlocked the door. Dying sunlight broke through the open door along with a balmy breeze. The group followed Ozera out of the corridor to the outdoor arena that lay ahead. It was a large space, with many hiding places and vantage points within the thickets of trees that filled the area. Above them, the sky was an array of oranges and reds as the sun began making its descent. The fourteen members spread out in the open grassy area, where Ozera stood in front of two flags and two sets of armbands laying on the ground. ‘I will be giving a brief explanation; the armbands represent which team you are on, please place these on now.' The commander said, which the groups began doing so, ‘The task is to get your opponents' flag without them taking your own. You can place the flag anywhere, but make sure it is in an accessible area and that only three of you are allowed to guard your flag. To win you need to have pulled your opponents' flag out of the ground and not by simply touching it. Understand?' ‘Yessir!’ ‘You have five minutes to plant your flags and devise a strategy, once you see the flare, the game will begin. If you haven’t placed down your flag when the flare has gone off, you have to put down where you are standing. The game will end when the second flare goes off. Now go!’ Karter dashed over and grabbed his team’s blue flag, ‘Follow me!’ He called to his group, leadership skills kicking in. Obediently, the rest of C.42 ran after him, instantly disappearing within the trees. The foliage cast shadows on the dirt ground, pine needles were crunched underfoot as Karter led his group to find somewhere to place their flag. ‘Alright, I guess everyone split into twos and threes and we'll plant the flag, and you guys try to find the other team's flag? He said, not exactly sure how to strategise the game. When he was met by silence, Kyo chipped in, ‘Best plan we've got then!' And so they paired off, Emily and Freya were one group, Kyo and Charlotte another and then Naoko, Karter and Iris as the trio. All three groups disappeared further into the forest; Karter still held the flag as they ran off. ‘I’m not sure how well this plan is gonna go,’ Karter told Iris and Naoko nervously, ‘But it might be better than our opponents…’ Iris gave a nod, ‘They're clever but very unorganised, we've probably got a better plan than them because we actually have one.' A hint of surprise washed over Karter’s face at Iris’ sudden analysis of C.41. The surprise turned into content as he found that at least one of his teammates was reliable in their skillset. The three continued dashing through the forest, Naoko's wide eyes devouring every branch and leaf with wonder. His only memories of being outside were of smoke choked city streets where the only aspect of nature were pigeons and seagulls. Even through his wonder and adoration, he continued to focus on the task at hand, to find an accessible but hideable place for their team's flag. He had no idea how long they'd been running for and was concerned about when the flare would be shot. At that moment, it appeared his questions were about to be answered. Orange plumes of smoke billowed through the air, which was accompanied by the high-pitched screech of the flare. Karter froze, lost for words as the sky above them brightened. Taking matters into her own hands, Iris grabbed the flag from her frozen teammate and dashed over quickly to a small incline that was shaded by trees. She shoved the flag into the dirt before returning to the others who remained slightly dazed. As she joined them, Iris realised Karter's freeze up had nothing to do with the game nor flare. Naoko noticed it too and tried to help him out of the daze, but it was difficult to do so without a voice. It took a moment, but Karter eventually blinked out of it. He looked at the two anxiously, rubbing the back of his head before speaking, ‘I… uh… remembered something. Sorry, it threw me off.’ Iris could only nod, she had difficulty coming to terms with her own emotions, but to empathise and sympathise with others was something she couldn't do. Instead, she tried to pull the focus away from it all. ‘We've still got a game to win,' She said almost bluntly, indicating the flag, ‘We just need to guard it, and we'll be fine.' Karter's face was still paler than usual, but he managed a nod and swallowed back bile, ‘To defending then?' ‘Right.’ ~ Birds scattered from the trees as yelling filled the area. Colin held the red flag after the rest of his group has hesitated in grabbing it. He never gave any instructions nor did anyone else as they all followed him into the forest. Colin had hoped at least one of them would be willing to lead, but he found the usually chatty group dormant as they had run through the forest. But as time droned on, panic and chatter escaped from the seven. ‘So, what the hell are we doing? Where are we going?' Clary began, her tone was exasperated. ‘If you want an answer you should lead!’ Colin barked, agitated. Clary abruptly stopped walking, resting a hand on her hip, ‘As you took the flag I couldn't particularly wrench it from your grasp! If you haven't noticed, no one knows what they're doing, and no one wants to lead!' ‘Fine! I don’t know how to play this right so I’ll do my best. We should probably split up…’ Colin trailed off as he was interrupted. The shriek of the flare made everyone jump, Levi squeaked in fright and cowered behind Alex. Orange smoke danced in front of their eyes, their five minutes were up. A curse flew from Colin's lips as he begrudgingly shoved the flag into the ground in front of him. The area they were in wasn't at all good, the group was exposed, and the flag was stuck right in the middle of it. ‘Change of plans then…’ Leslie murmured, an unintentional smile upon her lips. A dark laugh escaped Alex, a mischievous grin on their face, ‘Yep, we’re screwed.’ Instead of bringing further anxieties on the group, they rest also began laughing. They'd only known each other for less than a day but knew they could be comfortable with one another, regardless of how bleak their situation was. Their shouting and yelling were instantly replaced with laughter and stupid remarks, the team-building exercises were meant to be so they could work together, but for now, it was just a chance to be close with one another. ~ It was only when the flare went off did Kyo and Charlotte stop for a moment. They had been running almost non-stop since C.42 split up. Neither of them had much clue as to where they were going, so when the flare erupted into the air, they both paused. ‘Uhhh, so where exactly are we going?’ Kyo asked first, panting slightly and readjusting her ponytail. Charlotte lightly shrugged, ‘To find the other team's flag and get it, of course. Come on; it'll be just a bit of fun, no one's gonna get hurt.' Kyo smiled, ‘You don’t need to tell me twice.’ As the two began to run again, Charlotte spotted the birds scattering from nearby trees, squawking loudly as they fled. Concern was creased into her brows as she continued her jogging pace, in comparison, she was faring far better than Kyo who was heavily breathing and jittering behind as they moved. She found running calming and that she could stay like this for hours and hours without breaking a sweat. Charlotte swerved in the direction of the fleeing birds, a theory popping into her head. ‘You know in the mell hall,’ She said between breaths, ‘C.41 could barely shut up. Most likely to the point that they could scare birds, huh?’ Kyo’s blue eyes lit up with excitement, ‘Yes!’ Charlotte’s light brown hair flew through the air as she increased her running speed in the direction of the noise. As they drew closer, they both began to hear the commotion of C.41, the group's laughter reverberated through the trees as they all huddled around the red flag. Kyo could barely breathe as she collapsed to the ground. Fortunately, her fall onto the dead leaves was inaudible to C.41, who were barely paying attention to their surroundings. She was close to coughing violently as sweat drenched her skin, she loved to run around usually, but she found herself overextending her energy. ‘Just… give me a minute,’ She panted. Charlotte gave a small smile, ‘Sure, they haven't noticed us anyway, we can just keep low until Freya and Emily hear them too.' ‘Sounds… good…' Her words were breathless. Charlotte crouched nearby Kyo, her eyes scanning the immediate vicinity. They were hiding behind a copse of trees which gave the two coverage from the oblivious group. Charlotte had no idea what anyone's names were, but she did remember the three tallest had been the ones shouting excessively at one another in the mess hall. Only one of the seven were not laughing; she had short brown hair that reached her shoulders and dark brown eyes that gave away no emotion. Her pale limbs, however, shook due to fear, and Charlotte had to concentrate to see the woman's eyes dart around the area with hidden anxiousness. Her analysis of the rest of the group was short-lived as Kyo rose from where she sat. She made a step towards the group to get a better look but found herself standing on a twig which snapped loudly. C.41’s laughter instantly died down as they all turned to the sound of snapping wood. Kyo squeaked and ducked behind Charlotte, but it was futile as their hiding spot had been compromised. ‘What was that?!’ Levi cried, terror on her face. ‘Who’s there?’ Jules asked, unsure of whether they’d get an answer. ‘Come out, you cowards,’ Alex hissed, fists clenched. Kyo gulped, poking her head out of the trees and screaming, ‘Don’t hurt us!’ Clary laughed, ‘Well don’t take our flag, huh?’ Colin elbowed her, ‘Shut up! That’s the actual aim of the game.’ She rolled her eyes, ‘It’s a joke, jeez, calm yourself…’ Bickering between the two of them erupted while Kyo and Charlotte stared in stunned silence. Alex tried to step between them to shut them up, but by then they began to insult one another. Leslie couldn't help but laugh again, which brought a smile on Clary's face as she pushed Colin out of the way. ‘Screw this; I'm going to get a flag.' Instantly she was sprinting away, she dashed in between both Kyo and Charlotte and disappeared through the trees. The smile on her face never left as she began to notice clues of the two’s arrival, broken pine needles were scattered on the ground and footprints were pressed into the soft ground. Her plan was definitely spontaneous and not entirely organised. But she didn’t care as Clary knew her team would have a better chance at winning if she took this risk. The sudden snapping of branches made her falter in her step as she glanced behind her. Running after her was Alex, their height made it easier for them to catch up with Clary. They evened out their pace so that they were running beside her. ‘So, where are we going?’ Alex asked. ‘Following this very helpful trail to their flag, of course.’ She replied, ‘Is anyone else coming?’ Alex shook their head a mischievous grin on their face, ‘No one else is fast enough.’ Clary smiled, ‘Sounds good.’ ~ ‘I think it’s safe to say we’re lost.’ Freya stated. Emily and Freya had been spending the last five minutes running through the forest, but only then did Freya realise they had been going in circles. ‘We’ve seen that same tree three times!’ She exclaimed. Emily was silent as she pondered their situation, she was sat on the ground, arms crossed and staring into space. Freya began clicking her fingers in front of her face, trying to catch her attention, which oddly enough wasn’t working. ‘EMILY!’ She shouted. She blinked back into reality, adjusting her glasses she looked up at Freya, ‘Hm?’ ‘What are we going to do! We're lost!' Freya's voice neared on the hysterical, ‘For all, we know it could have been hours since we split off with the others!' ‘But we’re not… it’s only been about five minutes since we left Karter, Iris and Naoko. And yeah… I can now see that we’re going in circles. But that shouldn’t matter, we’ll find the others soon. Just as she finished her sentence, two figures sprinted past them both. Freya began opening and closing her mouth like as a goldfish as she tried to speak. ‘Those were people from the other team,’ Emily supplied for her, ‘No clue who but they must have been going in the opposite direction of their flag, right?’ Freya still unsure what just happened blurted out, ‘Yeah, yeah, ok.’ Shakily, the two began jogging, neither of them had the strength or ability to dead sprint through the forest, so they kept at a basic pace. Emily's perceptive eye made her spot the footprints that were stamped in the ground; there were the much deeper ones heading in the opposite direction they were heading and then another two pairs that were heading their way. ‘It must be Kyo and Charlotte,’ She said decisively. It didn’t take long until they could hear the commotion from Kyo, Charlotte and the majority of C.41. Kyo was ducked behind a tree, letting Charlotte stand her ground in front of the five people standing before them. ‘You won't get this flag! It's five versus two!' Leslie cried, getting into the game, ‘It'll be futile for you even to try,' She couldn't help smiling giddly as she spoke. ‘This is a bad idea, this is a bad idea,’ Levi repeated over and over, biting her nail, ‘We can’t just fight them! It’s totally unfair.’ ‘We need this upper hand, as much as I hate that Clary and Alex ran off, we may win this,’ Colin told her, hoping she’d stop freaking out. Kyo sat behind the tree, panic in her eyes as she took everything into account, ‘We’re so so screwed!’ Emily and Freya dashed over to her, being as stealthy as they could to hide behind the tree with her. Shock first filled Kyo’s face as she thought it was an ambush before realising who was coming towards her. A smile broke out onto her face as she checked behind the tree to see if anyone saw them. ‘Thank god you’re here!’ She exclaimed in a whisper, ‘I thought we were toast.’ ‘So, what’s going on?’ Freya asked, ducking behind the tree. ‘Well, uh, two of them ran off, and now we're all freaking out. But now that you're here it makes our chances of winning even better! We just need to get the flag.' Kyo replied, excited. ‘Shouldn’t we go out there, instead of hiding, then? Emily asked, finding little logic in Kyo’s current tactic. Her pale cheeks flushed in embarrassment, ‘R-right…’ Nervously, the three strode out from their hiding spot. The loud chatter of C.41 ended abruptly as they appeared from out of the trees. Instead of hurling insults at one another and acting high and mighty, the game was truly about to begin. Charlotte looked at her three team members, a small smile on her face. ‘Glad you could join us,’ She said, ‘Let’s go.’ The four made a run for the flag, Levi ducked out of the way, not wanting to get involved in violence. But then as the two groups collided, it became more of a pushing fight than anything else. None of them had the skills to fight, nor the motivation to do so. It was obvious they were all the complete opposite of soldiers. The air of seriousness dropped instantly as the pushing and pulling escalated, shrieks and shouts echoed through the forest, followed by laughter. ‘Stop! Ow, that’s my hair!’ ‘Give us the flag then we’ll stop!’ ‘You’ll never get your hands on it!’ Colin couldn’t help but sigh as he watched the frenzy. He just hoped that Clary and Alex would hurry up with getting the flag so that this would end quickly. Unfortunately, that was never the case. ~ Alex signalled to Clary to stop running, she obeyed and slowed into walking. In the distance, Alex could see the bright blue flag that limply blew about. They spotted Karter, Iris and Naoko, who were mostly standing around bored. Iris had her arms crossed and was pushing a twig around with her foot while Naoko's eyes wandered around the area, admiring the scenery. It was only Karter who seemed to be paying any attention to the game, who was crouched on the ground, scanning the area. ‘There’s three of them,’ Alex told Clary, who couldn’t see them, ‘I’ll confront them, you go around and grab the flag.’ Clary nodded in agreement, ‘Gotcha.’ She took up her position, dashing over through the canopy of trees until she could make out the three figures. She sat crouched by the leaves, readying herself to pounce. Alex took a less stealthy approach; they crashed through the lines of trees and shrubbery until they stood face to face with Karter, Iris and Naoko. All three snapped their attention to Alex, who just smirked. ‘Oh! This is awkward…’ They coughed, ‘Well, uh, hello! I’m here for your flag. Thanks.’ Karter stared dumbfounded at their sudden appearance and demand, ‘We’re not just going to hand it over..?’ Alex continued smiling, ‘I know that, obviously…’ They trailed off when they saw a flash of white hair, ‘It’s why I brought back up.’ On cue, Clary leapt out of her hiding place, before Karter or Naoko could react, she dashed across the clearing, hand outstretched for the flag. She was inches away from grabbing it, seconds away from winning the game when everything turned upside down. Iris had heard the rustling of leaves as Alex approached them, while she couldn't figure what made the noise, she assumed the worst. She had readied herself for an ambush that came just seconds later. Whipping into action, Iris dove towards Clary, whose fingers hungrily yearned for the flag, and without thinking of the consequences, kicked Clary's legs from beneath her and pushed her violently to the side. Clary yelped as she was thrown to the right, her body went flying, and in seconds she was on the floor. Her back smacked a tree trunk which snapped her head backwards. No other sound came from Clary as she collapsed into the leaves, body limp. Alex paled, a lump formed in their throat as they took a shaky step towards Clary. But instead, they stopped, spinning around to face Iris. Seething with rage, they pointed their finger at her, which shook violently. ‘You’re going to pay for that.’ Alex hissed, just as they attacked. Running towards Iris, they yelled angrily, fists raised. A sudden look of surprise appeared on Iris’ face as she tried to dodge Alex. But their pummeling fists were too fast for her as Alex punched her in the cheek. She jumped back, already feeling a bruise develop on the skin, she too raised her fists. Both of them had forgotten about the game, forgotten about anything, just to fight. Iris extended her leg, suddenly kicking Alex in the chest who grunted at the impact. They retaliated, sending a punch forward but found it blocked by Iris' forearms. Alex yelled in frustration, twisting their body, they roundhoused kicked Iris, who went flying back into a tree. As she hit the trunk, she inadvertently bit her tongue; blood filled Iris' mouth as pain rolled through her. Shaking her head, she spat a glob of blood out before wiping her mouth. ‘IRIS, STOP!’ Karter yelled, suddenly remembering to speak, ‘You’re gonna kill each other! Alex began cracking their knuckles, ‘Bring it on.’ Wiping blood onto her trouser leg, Iris gave no notice of Karter and pounced at Alex once more. Rage fuelled the two fighters as they dealt out blow after blow. Naoko watched in horror, but gulping down his fear; he managed to dash over to the unconscious Clary. With shaking hands, placed his fingers on her pale neck, relief flooded him as he felt the soft thrumming of her pulse. A memory popped into Naoko's head as he analysed the situation, first aid, remembering the recovery position, he moved her so that she wouldn't choke. But when Naoko had done so, he looked helplessly at Karter, who still stood frozen watching Iris and Alex beating one another senselessly. ‘You killed her!’ Alex roared as they grabbed Iris’ throat, ‘You b-’ They never finished their sentence as the piercing shriek of a flare filled their ears. The two fighters winced, and Alex let go of Iris who stepped away, coughing violently. The four of them turned their attention to the sky, filling the air was bright blue smoke, the blue team had won the game. ~ It was only with a strike of luck that Kyo managed to grab the flag. After avoiding the tugging at her hair, she dodged past Jules and firmly held the metal pole. With a small grunt, she wrenched the red flag out of the ground until she was holding it. Joy lit up her face as she began to shout of her success. ‘I got it! We won, we won!’ As soon as she spoke, the blue flare was set off. The members of C.41 grumbled to themselves, dissatisfied at the game results while Kyo, Charlotte, Emily and Freya cheered loudly. Eventually, Leslie joined in with the four, laughing and cheering with them. ‘It's just a silly game; it doesn't matter who won!' She told her team, ‘It's not as if anyone actually got hurt.' ‘Let’s head back to the commander then,’ Jules said, ‘We can all celebrate there with the others.’ As they spoke, a small flying device headed towards them. The group all recognised it as a camera drone that was guiding them back to the start point. The ten of the followed after it, still laughing and cheering with Kyo swinging the red flag over her head. Their laughter died down instantly as they broke through the trees, and saw the aftermath of Iris and Alex's fight. Ozera was yelling at the two of them, calling their behaviour extreme and uncalled for. But even then, he seemed impressed by their fighting skills, thus concluding there would be no punishments as their injuries were enough. Iris' throat was laced with varying shades of purple, along with the bruise upon her cheek, dried blood lay on her lip, and her tongue was swollen. Alex's injuries were less visible, but underneath their shirt were dozens on bruises of their chest, a split lip and a purple eye. ‘Oh my god, what happened!?’ Freya yelped, seeing the two. Neither of them said anything, Iris looked to the floor, with sudden interest of the grass and Alex turned towards where Ozera now stood. The fight between Iris and Alex ended straight after the flare; its shrieking sound had knocked them both back into reality, so they backed off from one another. After checking on Clary, Alex carried her unconscious body back to the entrance of the arena, as guided by a second drone. When they arrived, a stretcher was brought in, which was where Clary now lay, her breathing had returned to normal, but it seemed unlikely she'd wake soon. Dried blood was crusted on her face, from where she bit herself and where her head had hit a sharp rock. Karter also stood beside Clary, shaking his head dismissively, ‘You don’t want to know…’ The rest of C.41 pushed past Kyo, Freya, Charlotte and Emily who were frozen on the spot and ran over to Karter. ‘Is she alive?!’ Levi cried, kneeling next to her. ‘Not dead. But concussed,’ Ozera answered, his arms crossed, ‘She’ll be transferred into the infirmary for now. As for the rest of you, congratulations C.42 for winning, sadly for you there are no prizes in soldiership, and thus this training session is over. I don't care what you do for the next two hours, but C.41 has their extra chores starting in the hangar, so everyone get moving!’ The thirteen left the arena, concluding their first ever team-building exercise. Spoiler: Chapter 6 A man wearing all white stood by the double doors that led into the team-building exercise areas, he waited patiently with an electronic clipboard which he checked every so often. Commander Ozera stormed through the doors, where the thirteen young adults of C.41 and C.42 filtered out behind him. The man in all white spoke a couple of hushed words with Ozera who gave him a nod. The man then disappeared down the corridor, heading to the capture the flag arena to pick up his patient. The members of C.42 were now free for the rest of the night, but even so, the majority of them hesitated with their departure, not wanting to leave so quickly. Iris was, however, an exception, bloodied and bruised, she didn’t want to spend another minute with just about anyone. Staying with C.41 meant the death stares from Alex and remaining with her own group meant billions of questions she didn't have answers to. Why did you fight them? She had asked herself but found no justification for her actions. So she continued walking back to the dormitory, leaving the hangar immediately. ‘Uh… see you guys tomorrow!’ Kyo said, ‘Hopefully we’ll get to know each other better then…’ She trailed off as she realised she knew none of their names, ‘Bye!’ The members of C.41 murmured their goodbyes as they began to prepare themselves for their unfortunate session of extra chores. As usual, none of them knew what it would entail, aside from Ozera who was smirking at the six of them. ‘As punishment, you have extra chores. To begin with, we’ll be staying in here, or more specifically, there,’ He pointed at the far right corner where a set of double doors were, ‘Toilets!’ ‘What!?’ Colin burst out while the rest stared in disbelief. ‘Inside are buckets, gloves and all other cleaning materials. You'll also be doing this in the morning tomorrow as your typical chores, just on a smaller scale, of course, have fun! And when you're finished, there's the mess hall to clear as well.' The six filed into the gender-neutral bathrooms, there were fourteen stalls, seven sinks and a large mirror in front of them. On the white tiled floors were the buckets filled with soapy water, sponges, gloves and toilet brushes. Quietly, the six went to work, though many grumblings and complaints echoed through the toilets. As it was the first day, it wasn't too difficult to clean, and they were finished within fifteen minutes. The real task was the mess hall. C.41 made the trek there, still wearing their gloves and carrying their buckets, snickers filled the corridors as other groups saw the six kitted out. Alex couldn’t help but roll their eyes. ‘What is this, secondary school?’ ‘You’re British too?’ Leslie asked, amazement and confusion in her eyes, ‘I never would have guessed…’ Alex shrugged, ‘From what I remember, I didn’t stay long in the country.’ Simply put, the mess hall was just that, a mess. Discarded eating trays and leftover food littered the room; even the buffet tables were left for them to clean. A look of disgust flashed over Leiko's face before disappearing quickly. Out of the six of them, she was slacking the most, preferring to take as long as possible with each task so she would do the least. Levi was more than ready to make up for her, as she found herself cleaning Clary's load as well. Her selflessness went so far that she was knackered before they'd even finished cleaning the tables. She sighed heavily, collapsing onto a seat. ‘Hey, you don’t need to wear yourself out, you’ve done so much!’ Jules said to her, stopping for a moment, ‘Take a rest, we can finish the rest of the tables.’ ‘You sure?’ Levi asked, clenching the cloth she held tightly, ‘We have to work together though.’ ‘It's fine; I think everyone can agree that you've done a lot, right you guys?' A chorus of agreement filled the large hall as the rest continued with their work. Leslie already had one of the sinks in the kitchen running to wash the mass of eating trays; steamy water filled the air as she wiped down the counters and discarded of leftover food. Colin, Jules and Leiko were all wiping down the tables, while Alex was stacking up the last of the trays left around the hall. They completed their task swiftly and immediately went to work with washing them. Without hesitation, Alex dunked their hands into the scalding sink of water that was still frothing up with bubbles. Leslie couldn't help but pause to stare at them with widened eyes. ‘Doesn’t that... hurt?’ She asked, voice trailing away. Alex shrugged, ‘Not particularly.’ Unsure how to, Leslie didn't reply, instead of sticking to drying the trays and stacking them up all over again. All the tasks they had were tedious, which was more or less the point of the punishment. Forty-five minutes flew by quickly and eventually they were left with a squeaky-clean mess hall. ‘Now we wait for morning… where it’ll be messy all over again,’ Colin said, annoyance in his tone. Leslie couldn’t help but laugh again, ‘Nothing we can do about that!’ He cracked a smile, nodding in agreement, ‘Let’s just go to sleep, I can barely stand.’ The group departed the mess hall, leaving the cleaning equipment beside the buffet tables and headed back to their dormitory. The small clusters of other young adults hanging in the corridors were gone, giving C.41 an uneventful walk back to their room, which was well needed after all the chaos of that one day. One by the one, the six filtered into the dormitory using the automatic door, the room remained as it was when they had all left to meet Ozera and C.42. Levi jumped onto her bed, sighing happily as she got to relax for a moment. ‘Anyone actually know what time it is?’ Leslie asked, sitting down to wrench the boots off her feet. Jules’ eyes wandered the room, ‘Well, there isn’t a clock anywhere so…’ Their eyes flashed with a sudden thought and grabbed their timetable card, on the opposite side of their schedule was a digital display, ‘Here! It’s three minutes to ten.’ ‘So, we only have three minutes until lights out??’ Levi cried, jolting up from bed. ‘Dibs on the bathroom!' Alex shouted, slamming the door shut. ‘Ugh, this is such a mess…’ Colin groaned. ~ After C.42 departed the hangar, they all awkwardly followed after Iris who was storming down the hall. None of them was brave enough to talk to her, but those who hadn't seen her and Alex fight were curious about it. Gathering the courage, Freya whispered to Karter as they all walked down the hall. ‘Hey… uh, so, what did happen?’ Charlotte, Kyo and Emily all drew closer, wanting to hear what he had to say as well. He sighed heavily, ‘Look you don’t want to know.’ ‘Yes, we do! Tell us!' Kyo demanded, ‘It wasn't too bad… right?' ‘Of course, it was! Someone got concussed!' Karter retorted, looking away for a second, ‘Look, while you guys were pushing each other around, Iris and… Omega? I think that's their codename… The two of them were full on fighting, kicking, punching; you name it. Iris hit the other one bad, she got knocked out against a tree and just went out like a light. We all thought she was dead.' The four paled, unable to respond. Karter shoved his hands into his pockets and began to quicken his walking pace, no longer in the mood to talk. Ahead of him was the dormitory, already inside was Iris and Naoko, who had also managed to slip past the group. Naoko was sat on his bed, whiteboard and pen in hand as he doodled randomly. Iris was inspecting her drawer, not even reacting as the rest of C.42 filed into the room. Karter climbed up to his bed, where he watched Iris pull out a pair of sleepwear from her drawer. It seemed the leaders of this operation were placing necessary clothing items into their drawers whenever they were out of the room. Karter wandered how they’d manage to complete such a task so seamlessly but decided it was a question for another day. For now, he was concerned with what seemed to be the rest of his life, Operation TBE. Grabbing his timetable card, he pondered all the different activities, unsure what any of them would entail. Seeing how quickly team-building exercises had escalated, the outlook did not seem good. Chatting opposite him were Emily and Freya, their feverish conversation was about their memories. It was true that the virus after symptoms had blanked all their minds, but now, the two were grasping at their lives before all of this. ‘I have a little sister called Lula; she was the first thing I could remember when I woke up. But I couldn't think of anything but that. But now I do! I've always been the one to protect, support and look after her.' Freya said, her excitable tone suddenly falling short, ‘There's no one else to watch over her… my parents were always so absent from our lives… who's looking after her now? I need to go back!' ‘Calm down, Freya!' Emily cried, ‘She must be safe, you'd never had signed up for this unless you knew she'd be alright. None of us would have abandoned our families; we chose this. I mean… I didn't even have a family to abandon…' Freya looked at her, questioning in her eye as she waited for Emily to continue. ‘It’s only coming back in bits and pieces but… my mother had cancer… and after that… my father hurt me…’ Tears brimmed in her eyes, ‘It wasn’t a happy home. I-I’m glad I left.’ Freya hugged her tightly, ‘Don't worry; we're all family now. Whether anyone here likes it or not.' Kyo laughed, smiling broadly at the two of them. Emily began wiping at her eyes, replacing her upset with happiness as well. The three then changed the topic, knowing their pasts were too much to handle at the moment. The same couldn't be said for Naoko and Iris, who were both silent on their bunks. Cuts and bruises were still visible on Iris' body as she pondered her past, flashes of blood and pain much sharper than her current injuries filled her mind. Karter decided to cut into her dark thoughts. ‘Iris.’ He said calmly, ‘Do you need help with cleaning your cuts? They could be infected.’ ‘I’m fine.’ She replied, standing up and slamming the bathroom door shut. Naoko shrugged at Karter and then began writing on his board, She’ll be okay, I hope. ‘Hopefully,’ Karter sighed, ‘I think it’d be best if we all get an early night, yeah?’ He then said. A quarter of an hour passed and all seven were in bed. Though it took many hours before any of them could purge the newfound recollection of their past lives and finally fall unconscious. The same was said for almost the entirety of those young adults residing in this new military program. And it was going to take many weeks before any of them could face the truth of their new reality. War. ~ The loud pounding of a fist to the door of C.41’s dorm brought all of those who were asleep jolting awake. Bleary-eyed and heart racing, an announcement went through the room. ‘As punishment, you shall be continuing the next seven days with a readjusted schedule in comparison to the other groups here. It is currently 5 am and you have forty-five minutes before your dormitory inspections begin. By that time, you should all be ready for the day and your room clean. Thank you for your attention.' A chorus of groans and curses filled the room as the six begrudgingly rose from their beds. None of them looked fully rested, with dark circles surrounded their eyes. Clary was still absent from their room, so they all assumed she wouldn’t be attending their punishment. ‘Hopefully, we'll see her, today, yeah?' Jules said encouragingly, ‘She's better off in bed healing than joining us at this time in the morning.' Once precisely forty-five minutes had passed, the dorm room of C.41 slid open, standing with his usual glare was Commander Ozera. Fortunately for the group, they were all cleaned up and ready, their beds were made, though some with a wrinkle or two on them and the bathrooms were clear. Ozera swept the room in seconds, a hint of approval flashed on his face before disappearing again. ‘Seems your punishment from last night taught you all a thing or two, huh? Even so, it isn’t perfection, which I expect from you all. Remember, you need to be successful in the trails, now, straighten out your beds and actually dry the sink counters! Go!’ With the last fifteen minutes of the hour, Ozera shouted and berated at the six of them until the room looked like it had never been touched. For all their effort, the commander gave them a curt nod before moving onto their next punishment, sprints. The group followed him out of the dormitory; the hallways were deathly quiet. They arrived in the hangar just as the clock struck 6 am, and the rest of the quad began to wake. As they stood in the hangar, Ozera clapped his hands together with an evil smile, ‘Let’s begin, shall we?’ ~ Charlotte and the rest of her group began to follow the many other groups to the hangar with five minutes until 7. Their dormitory inspections were overseen by a nameless man who chided their lack of effort before leaving the seven in stunned silence. But now in the hangar, they saw the clusters of different groups standing around awkwardly. On the floor of the room were now large lines resembling a box with a group code in the middle. Charlotte scanned the ground and quickly located the empty C.42 box. Tapping Kyo on the shoulder, she gestured towards the box who then called the rest of the groups towards the area. The last five minutes before the morning drills began, the rest of Quad C filtered into the hangar. While everyone chatted, one large area of the building was filled with the barking commands of Commander Ozera as three groups sprinted weakly back and forth in the area. Iris froze when she spotted Alex, who was making easy work of the sprints. However, not many of the other runners could say the same, Levi and several others were panting heavily, only jogging and giving up with sprinting. Leslie continued at a faster pace, but a sheen of sweat was evident on her face, and her usual infectious smile was gone. The clock struck seven and Ozera halted the three groups and ordered them to their boxes. C.41 made their way to the box beside Karter and his group. Jules and Levi instantly collapsed onto the floor, with no intention of rising again. The two mumbled into the ground, eyes drooping and sweat pouring profusely. Leiko's cheeks were uncharacteristically red, and she too was panting, her legs felt like jelly as she tried to remain standing. ‘I hate that man so much,’ Colin growled, wiping sweat from his brow, ‘An entire hour of sprinting with no break! Ugh.’ Jules lifted their head up to respond, ‘And we now have to do this without rest! I just wanna go back to sleep.’ The morning drills began, with Levi and Jules begrudgingly rising to listen to the announcements listed by Lieutenant General Archer. Her voice was quickly recognised as the one who greeted them all after the cells were opened, though this time she was soft-spoken but still held an air of superiority. Archer finished her announcements swiftly, relaying simple information and giving some context of their living situations. The rest was to be revealed by the commanders, who all led two groups each. She concluded her announcement with a small smile and a nod of encouragement, before disappearing. Following her departure, one of the many commanders took to the spotlight, explaining what would happen for the next hour. Simply enough, the 1,750 young adults were taught how to march and follow parade drill commands. Many of them caught on quickly, while others lagged behind. It was a work in progress and the hour went by speedily. ‘And that concludes today’s morning drills, please head to the mess hall for breakfast.’ ‘Yessir!’ The entire hangar called before dissolving into excited chatter. Breakfast was eaten and cleared away in seconds by the members of C.41 who ravenously consumed the trays of fluffy scrambled eggs, buttered toast, bacon and assorted cereals. Less than twenty minutes later, the six of them were lying face down at the table, with full stomachs and aching muscles. ‘I want this day to be over already!' Leslie moaned, her cheek pressed against the cool metal, ‘Can't we just sit everything out?' ‘Ozera would never let us do that. Not. In. A. Heartbeat.' Colin said, annunciating his last words. Before she could reply, another voice joined the conversation, ‘Aw, shucks, you didn’t save me any food?’ Simultaneously, all six looked up to see Clary standing at the front of their table. There was a visible lump the size of a goose egg on the side of her head and a scab was developing on her lip. Regardless, a keen smile was on her face as she greeted them. ‘Looks like I missed something, shouldn’t I be the one in pain?’ Alex choked out a laugh, ‘You were the one asleep, we were the ones sprinting up and down for an entire hour.’ ‘Yiiikes, that sounds awful. Are you saying I’ll have to be doing that too?’ The rest murmured in affirmation which led to a groan from Clary. ‘And you all got a head start on me, oh well, I'm going to get something to eat.' She walked past C.42’s table, where for a split second she made eye contact with Iris. She swallowed uneasily giving the woman a nod before dashing over to the buffet tables. A wave of nausea hit Iris as she continued watching Clary who began chatting amiably to the servers. The fight Iris had initiated the night before was made even worse for her after her memories began plaguing her sleep. Nightmares filled with only blood and misery left her harrowed. She was now assured of her skills of combat, both weaponless and bladed. Her upbringing had been nothing but torturous. ‘Iris, you okay?’ Freya asked, her face pale. She clenched her fists before standing up abruptly, disturbing her eating tray. Snatching it up, Iris stalked out of the mess hall, with no intention of stopping. ‘Something’s wrong,’ Freya said, turning to Emily, ‘She was quiet already… but now?? Something’s really hit her.’ ‘Mhm,’ Emily agreed, losing herself in thought for a moment, ‘I don’t think it was capture the flag that did it. We’ve mostly all gotten our memories back right? Well, what are hers?’ ‘I’m not sure if I want to know…’ Freya replied sadly. The group fell into an uneasy silence, eating what was left of their meals and then departing. As they finished early, they had an extra fifteen minutes before their first session started in the sparring halls. Karter decided it’d be best if they worked out where the sparring halls were so that they weren't late. ‘My guess would be one of the many doors in the hangar. You know that room is massive and seeing as one of those doors led off to an outdoor arena, I wouldn’t be surprised all the other training areas are there.’ Kyo said confidently. Charlotte nodded, ‘Let’s get going then.’ ‘Wait…’ Emily interrupted, ‘Shouldn’t we find Iris?’ Before any of them could reply, a voice intercepted the conversation, ‘Hey, wait up!’ Turning around, they found C.41 heading towards them, with Clary as their frontrunner. Alex stuck close to her, their expression deadly as they looked the six up and down. ‘Hey, so, we got off on the wrong start,’ Clary continued, a smile on her face, ‘And seeing as we’re meant to be working together, I was wondering if we could join you? Also, it’d be amazing if we actually knew one another’s names, huh?’ ‘Uh, yeah, sure.' Karter replied, ‘I'm Karter, and this is Naoko,' Who he nodded toward, ‘And you are..?' ‘Clary. You've met Alex,' Who she gestured towards, ‘The one rolling his eyes is Colin, beside him, are Leiko and Jules.' Leiko silently eyed the six of them before interesting herself in other things, ignoring them altogether. ‘Hi! It’s great to meet you guys.’ Jules chirped, ‘Properly, that is. I’m Jules, also sorry about pushing you guys yesterday.’ ‘No biggie,' Kyo said, ‘It was fun, especially as we won,' A devilish smile appeared on her lips, ‘I'm Kyo, and this is Charlotte.' ‘I’m Levi!’ The last member of C.41 squeaked, realising she hadn’t mentioned herself, ‘I can’t wait to get to know you guys better.’ ‘Likewise here, I'm Freya, and this is Emily.' The two girls smiled, Emily, giving a small wave. ‘Last but not least, I am Leslie! The best one of our group,’ She said jokingly, waving her arms, ‘And we’re sure to win next time.’ Laughter flowed from the two groups as they began to venture forwards. The thirteen tended to stick with just their group, except Leslie and Jules who weaved their ways through C.42 to chat about nonsensical things. Clary drew close to Karter and Naoko, who both walked in silence, behind her, Alex trailed close behind. ‘Where’s your last member? I saw she left, is she alright?’ Clary asked. ‘Iris is quiet, so we don't really know. Emily's guess is her memories are haunting her, and you know… yesterday…' Karter trailed off. ‘Forget about it,' Clary intercepted, waving a hand, ‘Everyone was feeling a bit off yesterday, our lovely commander riled up two of our greatest fighters, so I heard. It's in the past, and it was no doubt an accident, I'm fine.' ‘You sure? You don’t seem fine.’ He asked, an eyebrow raised. ‘If you keep your group members in line, then she will be fine, got it?’ Alex growled, who had been listening in. Their conversation ended then; Clary gave Karter a sympathetic smile before moving forwards in the group. The thirteen of them made their way into the hangar, where many other groups had entered. All the doors lining the room were thankfully labelled, so they made quick work of finding the sparring halls. With ten minutes left before the end of breakfast, they remained in the hangar, getting to know one another and discussing their living situations. A while later, Iris entered the hangar, she instantly saw her group and C.41 clustered together beside the sparring halls and slowly made her way to them. She had spent the last twenty minutes in the dormitory, processing her thoughts and warming up for the day. Her body was obviously used to combat and training, but Iris knew being friendly and close to others was no apart of her repertoire. Regardless of how much time she would be spending with the other thirteen, she was confident trusting and being comfortable with her group was a foolish idea to fantasise. She was truly alone. ~ ‘I thought everything hurt when we did those sprints, but this is a thousand times worse!’ Levi cried as she clutched her right hand. Commander Ozera had decided to keep their first combat training session simple, learn how to punch. All fourteen of them were standing on mats with a punching bag hanging from the ceiling. He had demonstrated to them all the technique on successful punching, but the lesser experienced fighters of the group were significantly lagging behind. Levi, Leiko and Kyo were the most inexperienced, and their smaller sizes made it harder for them to make an impacting hit. Iris, Alex and Colin were the ablest, already understood the technique and had the highest success rates. The rest had some understanding of it, but it typically came down to their strength which left them fumbling. Clary flexed her fingers, ‘I could definitely break someone’s nose, but it would be at the cost of pretty much all my fingers. A one hit fighter isn’t the most helpful.’ ‘About costing your fingers… uh, help?' Emily held up her right hand, the skin on her knuckles were split and bleeding, but the largest concern was her index finger, it had swelled up and was crooked. ‘I-I think it's broken…' Her voice became shaky. Instantly everyone stopped what they were doing, crowding around Emily with concerned faces. Freya pushed through everyone as she was small enough to wriggle through, unlike Ozera who gave up almost immediately. ‘Let me see!’ She said, gingerly cradling her friend’s hand, ‘I went to med school before… this, some things are coming back to me.’ Kyo abandoned trying to look over the taller members of the group and ran up to their commander, ‘Is there a first aid kit or something?’ ‘One of the medical technicians are already on their way.’ He said bluntly, crossing his arms, ‘Just be patient.’ ‘But she needs something now! Why aren’t there first aid kits on hand!?’ Kyo retorted, forgetting who she was talking to, ‘At least a painkiller!’ ‘No. Just wait.' Ozera growled, his voice dangerously low, ‘I am your commander, and you will follow my orders. Understand?' She squeaked, ‘Yessir!’ ‘Give her some room! Crowding around isn’t helping!’ Leslie barked, shooing at everyone when she noticed the tears welling up in Emily’s eyes. The group dispersed, leaving Freya to examine her friend’s wound. There wasn’t much she was able to do without any equipment, so she had to use encouraging words to comfort Emily. Kyo and Leslie stuck close as well, alternating with pushing the others away and wiping at her tears. Five minutes later, a woman wearing the same white uniform as the man who they saw after the team-building exercise came in. She too held an electronic clipboard, but that was all. Locating the trembling girl, the woman guided Emily out of the room and gave Ozera a small nod. When the door clicked shut behind them, the commander barked at them. ‘Back to work!’ Kyo, Freya and Leslie stuck together for the rest of the session, though none of them was exceptional at combat, they found the rest of the session far easier with one another. Spoiler: Chapter 7 Emily returned to the group just before lunch. She had missed the first lessons of weapons and agility training. Both sessions showcased the two groups lacking military skill. They had spent weapons training getting a ‘feel for weapons', where they were introduced to all the weapons the weaponry had to offer. There were no firearms or other shooting equipment as shooting practice was later in the day, so only short-ranged armaments lay ahead of them. Commander Ozera spent most of the hour explaining and teaching them, before letting any of them get ahold of one. But the last fifteen minutes, they spent holding and examining each piece. It was Iris that felt most comfortable with the weapons as if she had already spent hours of her life with them. She found particular comfort with a katana, which freaked out the rest of the group incredibly. Agility training had a similar intensity to the punishment sprints C.41 had to complete that morning. All thirteen of the group had to finish the agility circuit in under five minutes, with the inclusion of climbing ropes, crawling under mesh wire and jumping through tires, the majority of them failed. Charlotte fell short significantly in the circuit, as her clumsy body let her down when jumping through the tires and climbing the ropes. Some of the other girls tried to help her up every time she fell, but it became almost unbearable for her, so Ozera let her stop early. The afternoon drills were the same as morning drills, only without the announcements given by Lieutenant General Archer. Emily was allowed to leave the infirmary halfway through the drills but was advised to stay in her dormitory until it ended. The medical technicians had clarified that she had dislocated her right index finger and that for the next six weeks she would not be able to take part in many of the training sessions. The pain had dulled in the last two hours after the bone had been reset back into place. It was now in a splint and taped to her middle finger, leaving the two of them immobile for the next six weeks. After leaving the infirmary, a commanding officer was waiting for her. ‘Are you Emily Sunshine?' She asked. ‘Y-yes, I am.’ ‘Excellent, I am here to run through the next course of action for you. The technicians have already said you cannot continue your training as per usual, which is fine. After lunch has concluded, your timetable shall have changed. You will remain with your group, but there may be changes in your activities to avoid further damage to your injury.' ‘Oh, okay. Thank you.’ Emily stuttered, her face heated in embarrassment before skittering away from the woman. She spent the next thirty minutes blankly staring at the clock in C.42’s dormitory. Originally, she had thought of taking a quick nap before the next half of vigorous training of that day, but sleep escaped her as she laid her head on the pillow. Emily had found it a miracle that she'd gotten any sleep at all the night before, the resurfacing of her memories kept her awake most of the time. Remembering her old self-made her feel unwhole almost, that pieces of her would be forever lost to the virus. But it was mostly the trauma she faced only months before that left her jittery. Emily's family had been average and normal in every way possible, but her mother's sudden diagnosis changed them all phenomenally. She was glad she never had siblings, at least none Emily remembered, for then only she faced the constant abuse of her father after her mother's passing. The last thing Emily could remember were the flashing of police lights and a reassuring voice on the end of a phone line, anything after that was blank in her mind. She was brought out of her thoughts abruptly by the sliding of the dormitory's door, looking up, Emily saw Freya enter the room. A smile affixed itself onto her friend's face as Freya came dashing over, giving her a big hug. ‘Are you okay?? We were so worried.’ She cried, still holding Emily tightly. ‘I’m fine now,’ She assured her friend, ‘I was let out half an hour ago, it was a dislocation, not a break.’ ‘Is that better or worse? It’s slipped my mind.’ ‘Honestly not too sure myself, but I have six weeks of this,' Emily raised her right hand, showing Freya her bandaged and taped fingers. ‘What’s happening with your training then? It must be changing, right?’ Freya asked. She nodded, ‘It should have changed by the end of lunch… speaking of that, is everyone else already in the mess hall?’ ‘Yep! I just came over to see if you were here.’ Emily smiled, ‘Let’s get going then.’ ~ Lunch passed quickly; the entire hall was much chattier than the last two meal times as all of Quad C became comfortable and sociable with one another. Some groups even pushed their tables together so that the paired groups could be closer and chat as all fourteen of them. C.41 and C.42 remained separated, but on more than one occasion did Levi, Emily, Freya and Leslie get up to talk to one another at the different tables. At 2 pm, the fourteen of them headed to the Operations Headquarters, which was also hidden behind one of the many doors in the hangar. Ozera was already waiting for them as he beckoned them all to sit. The headquarters were of simple design, two tiers of black desks were arranged like a lecture hall, with desktop computers and seats for each member. At the front of the room was a large electronic screen and another desk which Ozera stood behind. There were no windows, with only light panels on the staircase brightening the room. ‘Welcome to the Operations Headquarters,' Their commander began, ‘This is where each and every one of you will learn basic level coding and hacking. Those of you who are already familiar with this skill will continue on a more advanced course; the rest will just be thoroughly taught how to take down basic software. Let's begin, shall we?' Many of the group members who didn’t stand out in the combat and agility training sessions were reassured to find that their skills lay within technology. Naoko, Kyo and Emily found the tasks easy, as all three of them were hackers long before entering the headquarters. Jules and Levi were also finishing the tasks at a rapid pace, while neither of them were familiar with the coding and hacking, their intelligence and puzzle solving helped them greatly. The rest followed behind them slowly, which made Ozera’s job of dividing up the groups easy. ‘Silent, Princess, Solar.' He said aloud, stopping everyone, ‘You three are our primary hackers, as all of you are in the same group, I will have you circuiting around both groups. Truth and Cat, you are our secondary hackers. The rest of you, are on the basic level course. Everyone understand?' ‘Yessir!’ Twenty minutes after concluded the end of Intelligence Operatives and they all followed Ozera into the gymnasium. Like agility training, endurance training was pure hell for all of them. The circuit was kept basic, ten minutes on treadmills, ten minutes on exercise bikes and ten minutes of assorted exercises which included planks and wall sits. The course was repeated twice to fill the whole hour, which left everyone aching and sore. The shooting range was connected to the weaponry but filled with firearms and bows. The fourteen spent the first half of the session taking apart the different guns and putting them together, along with reloading each weapon. Ozera assured them all that by the end of the year; they'd all be able to name every component of a rifle and load and reload it all in under a minute. Instead, his words had the opposite effect as hardly any of them could put the gun together fully within ten minutes and it took them at least another five to reload. The next thirty minutes were just as excruciating, as they all began shooting. The only capable of the group were Iris and Charlotte, though even then it seemed like lucky shots. Even when teaching the technique to them, Ozera couldn't help but sigh in disappointment. Charlotte sensed his disappointment and placed down her handgun to grasp his attention, mustering up her courage she went over to him. ‘Could I try with the bows? None of us have touched them, and this is getting hopeless.’ Ozera raised an eyebrow, ready to reprimand her before remembering her codename, ‘Knock yourself out, Arrow.’ She could feel everyone's eyes on her as she walked past the rest of the group and grabbed one of the bows. It felt familiar in her hand, which sent a shot of encouragement through her, grabbing a quiver of arrows and arm guard, she headed to the archery section of the range. Notching an arrow, Charlotte examined her target before drawing the bow. Her arms tensed up heavily, but she found familiarity with the action and released the arrow. The only sound heard was the satisfying smack of the arrow burying itself into the target. While it was not a bullseye, the arrow landed safely into the second inner ring. A smile appeared on her face as she drew the bow back, successfully proving her point. Ozera allowed the rest of them to choose between bows and firearms for the last ten minutes. Clary, Iris, Alex, Colin, Karter, Leiko and Freya remained with the handguns, and then Kyo, Leslie, Jules, Naoko and Levi joined Charlotte with the bows. Emily was sat at the back of the range, still slowly putting together the rifle with far bigger struggles thanks to her dislocated finger. Still, she found it satisfying to slot the pieces together, even if it took her ten times longer to do so. At 5 pm, they returned to the Operations Headquarters for simulations. Ozera spent the entire hour introducing the simulation technology, which was hidden behind the electronic screen at the front of the room. With the push of a button, he revealed a boxed-in room with a one-way mirror for them to look through. Black panels covered the rooms' walls, floor and ceiling and to the beside the door were different pieces of equipment. Ozera brought them out of the room, explaining each device. There were fake guns, bombs, tools and other weapons included. He then started up the simulation, where lifelike holograms appeared of an abandoned warehouse. ‘The purpose of the simulations is to give you real-life scenarios that you will face after completing the trials. This can be an example of a hostage situation and also bomb defusing. Some of the scenarios are similar to your team-building exercises, but instead of using flags and paintballs, this gives you the real-life perspective of it all.' Ozera said, before changing the holograms into a plain room, ‘And last but not least, the fear simulation. Where you will find out your fears and be taught how to overcome them.' An uneasy mood fell over the fourteen, not many of them were sure what their fears were. To have a simulation where they will have to face them in front of everyone else made them all uncomfortable. Ozera could sense the immediate change in the atmosphere and shut off the simulation room. ‘Fears will be ventured later in the year. For the time being, you will only be taking on hostage situations and bomb defusals, understood?’ Quietly, the group replied, ‘Yessir.’ ‘That is all for simulations, so we will spend the last fifteen minutes continuing with your coding skills. Which for many of you, are terrible.’ Weak laughter filtered through the room. But the unsettling feeling of facing their darkest fears remained for the rest of the session. Even when the evening drills began and ended, it was still on everyone’s minds. The general mood of the mess hall was also different to breakfast and lunch, many of the young adults were simply exhausted by the extensive activities of the day. But the oppressive reminder that their entire lives would be dictated by harsh schedule kept conversations short and dull. ‘Could you guys cheer up a little bit?’ Kyo asked, concern furrowing her brow as she played with a strand of blue hair, ‘You’re all worrying me.’ Naoko grabbed his whiteboard and pen, he usually left it in his dormitory, but at lunch after seeing everyone being so talkative, he brought it for dinner. Quickly, he scribbled down a sentence and showed the board to Kyo. There is a lot people are trying to process; I think everyone's okay. Just lost in thought, you know? She shrugged, ‘I’m just worried. Everyone was so happy earlier today.’ I guess the mood has shifted. ‘Naoko’s right,’ Karter said, watching the two converse, ‘There’s a lot of this I still don’t understand. Sorry for worrying you, Kyo.’ She gave him a bright smile, ‘It’s fine! I just don’t my group upset.’ Dinner ended shortly after, and the group went to the hangar for their last activity of the day, team-building exercises. Ozera led the fourteen into the outdoor arena as he had done the day before. Striding through the winding hallway, he reached the last door, which had the image of a racing car on the front. Opening the door, the group flooded out of the corridor into a wholly tarmacked area structured into a race track. To the right of the track was a large garage, which Ozera opened up using a small control. Inside were seven black jeeps, each kitted out with varying firearms. ‘Welcome to the race track,' Their commander said proudly, ‘It's imperative that you all know how to drive. Some of you may already know from your time as a civilian, but you are now soldiers, and so you need to know how to drive like one. Now, pair up!' Eventually, the pairs that formed were, Colin and Karter, Kyo and Charlotte, Emily and Freya, Clary and Alex, Jules and Leiko, Leslie and Levi and lastly Iris and Naoko. Some of the pairs were instantly made, with Alex protectively grabbing Clary and Emily and Freya squeezing together tightly. Less excitable pairs were Leiko and Jules, with the former appearing very uncomfortable with the pairing and Iris and Naoko, who was one of the last pairs formed. ‘You’ll be taking turns with driving. The keys are in the ignition, go!’ The seven groups awkwardly made their way to the jeeps. To begin with, it was Colin, Freya, Alex, Jules, Leslie and Iris driving, while the rest sat shotgun. The majority of them already knew how to drive, with Colin, Alex, Jules and Iris the most experienced as they drove down the track. Freya was mostly scared for her life as Ozera barked at her to increase her speed, from behind her, she could hear the loud whooping cries of Clary as she and Alex raced past them. ‘Come on! Let’s have some fun!’ She cried gleefully, sticking out of the sunroof for a moment. Freya took a deep breath, ‘Here goes nothing.’ The gap between her jeep and Clary's began to get smaller and smaller as she pressed hard on the accelerator. Beside her in the passenger seat, Emily cheered, laughing along with the rest of them. The only quiet jeeps were Iris’ and Jules’. Both Iris and Naoko remained pretty chill throughout the evening, with the former speeding around without hesitating, she knew exactly when to change gears and reached speeds similar to Alex. When Naoko began driving, it was slow at first as he tried to remember how to drive, at sixteen he learnt how to but hadn’t owned a car. Along with the memory loss, his skills were a little rusty. Even then, Iris was patient with him, at some points giving him tips but mostly spent her time looking out the window in sombre silence. Jules tried to bring a conversation into their jeep, but Leiko wasn’t having it. Even to the point of changing over drivers, she almost flat out refused to drive until an angry Ozera came into view. The hour passed quickly, and Ozera concluded the exercise with a small announcement. ‘Day One is over, congrats. But you all have a long way to go before becoming real soldiers. And from tomorrow and onwards, you shall be able to use any of the differing training rooms during free time. With the exception of all but one outdoor arena as the rest can only be opened by a commander. And also, C.41 is still on extra chores so you will have to wait until the end of this week. Now, get out of here.' ‘Yessir!’ Obediently, C.41 headed back to the hangar, grabbing up all their cleaning equipment and getting to work. But the members of C.42 were a little more unsure what to do as they stood around in the hangar. ‘I wanna check out that outdoor arena! Seems cool,’ Kyo said, with Freya and Emily voicing their agreement. ‘I'm probably going to head to the shooting range again,' Charlotte replied, scratching her head, ‘An extra hour of practising my aim would be wonderful.' And so the seven split up, Kyo, Freya and Emily headed to the outdoor arena. It seemed many others had the same idea, as multiple groups of people went towards the team-building exercise area. The rest of the group went to the shooting range with Charlotte, where Iris focused on shooting an assault rifle, Karter with two handguns and Naoko remaining at the back slotting a gun together while also cleaning and memorising the inner pieces of the firearm. ‘Looks like your aim is getting better,’ Karter said encouragingly to Iris who was slotting a new magazine into her AR. She gave a small nod before continuing shooting, concluding their conversation instantly. By 10pm, everyone in Quad C was exhausted. Their first-day training was over, the rest of their lives was only just beginning. Spoiler: Chapter 8 BREAKING NEWS It has been finally drawn up that precisely 28,000 young adults aged 18-24 went missing two weeks ago. Across the globe, multiple specialised task forces have been set up to find these missing people. A representative of the New York Specialist Division, Robyn Winchester, has told us, ‘We have a lead. We’re working with the fifteen other task forces to follow this lead and bring everyone back. I’m sure of it. If not, then I’ll personally go to hell and back to find the ones who did this.’ ~ ‘At that concludes our first week. Which also means C.41, you’re off extra chores and sprints,’ Commander Ozera said at the end of their seventh team-building exercise, paintballing. ‘YES, FINALLY!’ said Jules practically jumping with joy. Clary looked at Alex with joy who raised their fist in the air excitedly, Colin’s left eyebrow raised in concern at the duo but his eyes were thankful at no longer doing chores. Leiko tutted, with Levi smiling brightly and somewhat squealing with joy, Leslie laughed at the antics of her group. Karter looked on with a small smile as C.41 exploded with excitement. He began taking off his paintballing gear, which was peppered with brightly coloured paint splats. For the last week, they had spent team-building exercises either competing with one another in their groups or driving madly around the race track. So far, there had been five games, which C.42 was in the lead at 3-2. As much as the group tried not being boastful, they were, whooping loudly as well after they had won, all but Naoko, who just smiled plainly with a hint of pride in his eyes, and Iris who just looked around with little enthusiasm. ‘Yeah, yeah,’ Ozera continued after C.41’s cheers had died down, ‘You still need to clean up your paintballing gear, and then you’re free to go.’ Five minutes later, the black helmets and protective chest plates were shining and clear of paint. The fourteen left the outdoor arena chatting amongst themselves amicably. Since arriving in Quad C, the vigorous training they had spent together made them closer. Even if it had been only a week, they were more supportive of one another. ‘Hey, so now you guys are off chores, do you wanna go to the open field and play cards?’ Kyo said, smiling brightly. ‘Where’d you get cards from??’ Leslie asked, curiosity in her eyes. ‘There’s a tuck shop of sorts on the field! We got them on Tuesday.’ Freya replied, ‘I’ll get our pack from our dorm. Be right back!’ She jogged off, along with Emily, they chatted while doing so. The rest of the two groups started to talk amongst each other, friend groups joining together to share conversations as they stood in the hangar. It only took a couple of minutes for Freya and Emily to return with C.42’s pack of cards, Freya waving the box above her head as she entered. After that, they headed to the field. It was a large open space of dark green grass. It was over an acre in size, and climbable trees filled the arena. A volleyball net was set up in one corner, along with a basketball court and an assortment of seating. Kyo, Freya and Emily had already spent the last week of their free time in the field, so they didn’t pause as they made their way to the deck chairs. The other eleven lagged behind as they took in the impressive view. The sun was dipping into the horizon, which shone with bright colours of red and oranges. The evening air was warm on their skin as they sat on the deckchairs. ‘Let’s play Go Fish!’ Kyo said, already placing cards down. ‘Don’t you think there are too many people for one pack?’ Clary asked sceptically. ‘We could do teams!’ Jules said, grabbing one of the card piles, ‘Who wants to be on my team?’ They made themselves into three teams: Alex with Jules, Clary and Levi. Kyo, Leslie, Charlotte, Freya and Emily. Karter, Naoko, Iris, Leiko and Colin. They started playing, apparently only a few knowing how to play properly. Alex kept telling their team what cards to ask for and what cards to make a trio, same with Kyo and Karter with their own team. By the fourth round, Team Kyo had the most points, Team Alex close behind and Team Karter failing miserably due to Iris’ lack of interest, Naoko’s confused silence and Colin’s intense complaining about their cards. Round five Team Alex were strategising and getting a lot of trios, leaving Team Kyo in a panic along with Team Karter who had turned into a stony silence. ‘Team Kyo, got any aces?” Clary asked, an eyebrow raised. Emily groaned as she handed other the two aces, Alex reached over to take them and gave them to Jules who held their cards. They placed the two aces then put two more, Levi, smiling widely, patted Emily on the back with a small thank you as they continued going around in a circle. Eventually, Team Alex won the round, with Team Kyo second and Team Karter sulking slightly in the last place. ‘Can we place something else this is boring,’ Colin said after losing yet another round to Team Alex. Jules dropped their cards in response, they sighed and checked their timetable card, ‘It’s 9:44 pm, we should head back to our dorms soon, lights out is in 16 minutes.’ ‘How about we go to the tuck shop?’ Emily suggested. ‘I’m down, anything to get more extra chores,’ Alex replied sarcastically, they were standing next Clary, leaning on her with and their elbow resting on her shoulder. So the two groups set off to the tuck shop, in the direction of the volleyball pitch and the basketball court, when in view the tuck shop stood by the furthest wall from the entrance to the field. The shop was small, with the size similar to a broom cupboard. A small white android sat on the counter of the tuck shop; it had a scanner and a touchscreen display on it. Sensing the group’s arrival, it began talking. ‘Welcome! Please scan your arm in the reader below.’ Taking the lead of the group, Alex stepped forward, placing their left wrist under the scanner where their code was, C.41.3. ‘Thank you Omega! You are permitted to take three items this week. You can return items if you wish. Please select your items using the screen.’ ‘Did Ozera seriously put down our codenames?’ Colin asked, an eyebrow raised. Kyo shrugged, ‘Apparently everyone here has codenames, so it’s like that for all of us.’ The rest crowded around the touchscreen, intrigued with what the tuck shop had to offer. Alex swiped across the screen; the next page was full of the normal tuck shop items, yoyos, sketch pads, pens, packs of cards, spinning tops and notepads. Tapping quickly, they selected only the sketch pad, which popped out, along with a set of pencils, next to the android which beeped lightly. ‘Thank you! You may take your items.’ It said Ten minutes later, the fourteen retreated back to their dormitories after both Freya and Iris had taken items from the tuck shop. Freya had a yo-yo, where she was flicking it up and down with a broad smile on her face. Iris, on the other hand, had waited until everyone had left before also taking a sketchpad and set of pencils. Once in their dorms, they all headed to bed, letting the lights shut off and end the first week peacefully. ~ ‘Alright, all together now! Start to finish; we’re doing this course!’ ‘Yessir!’ It was now the sixtieth day of training, and everyone was pumped and ready to go. No longer did the groups of C.41 and C.42 complain and groan about the deep aches in their muscles. Instead, dramatic changes were already obvious from the fourteen. Both Jules and Emily no longer wore their prescription glasses, and instead had them switched out to contact lenses. When they had all began training, most of them were scrawny and skinny, showing no indication of physical or mental strength, but they had all gain a considerable amount of muscle, even in the short few weeks. Emily’s finger was finally back to its normal self, with surprisingly no detriments to her training. Many of them had also had haircuts, with Alex losing most of their purple ends, Clary keeping her white hair at shoulder length as her blonde roots began to show, along with Kyo, Jules and Freya who too had brightly coloured hair. Iris had lost all traces of silver in her hair after decided to chop it all off, leaving her with just black. The males of the group had become considerably stronger, with obvious muscle indentations from beneath their shirts. New bruises and cuts appeared on the group members daily as they tirelessly fought one another. The fourteen had been placed in two groups in relation to their height for combat training. Alex, Colin, Iris, Karter, Charlotte, Clary and Leiko were considered the tallest of the seven, so they typically fought one another in order to keep the fights fair. Naoko, Emily, Kyo, Freya, Jules, Leslie and Levi were considered the smallest of the seven, so like the tallest seven, they fought one another while training. However, changes had been later made to these groups, with Leiko joining the second group after she’d been beaten every time. Overall the fourteen had begun growing up mentally and physically, as for that the two group were friendlier towards each other and more friendship groups were formed. Leslie, Freya, Emily and Kyo were closer than ever, although they fought each other daily, they were supportive and encouraging to one another. Ahead of them was the new agility training course, for the last two months, they had completed climbing ropes, jumping through tires and crawling under mesh wire. But after half an hour of the agility training, Ozera had challenged the fourteen to complete the updated course in under ten minutes altogether, it consisted of sprints, a climbing wall, throwing knives and running in between poles in a zigzag. Their commander had his hand raised, and they all waited prepared, adrenaline flowing through their veins. ‘GO!’ Clary, Alex, Leslie and Charlotte shot off instantly, sprinting the 100 metres effortlessly and making a significant distance between the rest. While it wasn’t a race, competitiveness was in everyone’s blood, wanting to do the best to succeed in the trials. Running close behind were Emily, Iris, Jules and Levi, the most agile of the group, along with Karter and Colin, who both used their long strides to their advantage. Freya, Naoko, Leiko and Kyo ran behind them all, while none of them were slow, it just seemed like it in comparison to everyone else sprinting ahead. Next up on the course was the climbing wall, they had to scale the structure and then climb down from the other side. Jules was the fastest on the wall, their past experiences in climbing giving them the biggest lead as they crawled up with ease. Alex followed behind as well, leaping over the wall without hesitation, and jumping down halfway. Iris was also over the wall in seconds, effortlessly scaling the structure with no hindrance from her prosthetic leg. On the other side of the climbing wall was a table with over fifty knives on the table and then several feet ahead of the knives were targets. The task was simple; they had to throw at least three knives into one of the inner rings before continuing the circuit. The most talented with blades of the group, Alex, took the task in stride, only needing three knives to complete it before they were on their way. Charlotte was close behind, just needing four knives. Kyo was scarily good at knife throwing, only missing the inner ring by a hair with her third blade. One by one, everyone completed the knife throwing, regardless of how many times it took them. Levi took the longest, as she had to throw sixteen knives before her third blade sunk into the largest inner circle. A final rope climb was all that kept the fourteen from the 100-metre sprint back to Ozera who was waiting impatiently with a stopwatch. Like the climbing wall, Jules found it easiest to climb up the ropes, but behind them was Leslie, who too found it easy to slink up the rope. Freya fell from the ropes twice, grazing both her forearms from rope burn. Eventually, they all dropped down once more, panting slightly as they readied themselves for the sprint back. Twenty seconds later the timer had been stopped. Alex was first to finish, with Iris and Colin behind them. Leiko was last to finish, as she’d barely cleared the ropes by the time Alex finished, along with Freya and Naoko, who both completed the course just seconds before Leiko. Cheers filled the gymnasium after everyone finished. Ozera silenced the group with a slow clap. ‘Well done, as I guessed, you all did clear it in under ten minutes. But barely,’ He held up the stopwatch, showing the time it stopped, 9:47, ‘I expect improvements for tomorrow.’ Agility training wrapped up shortly after, where they began to head to afternoon drills. Aside from Emily, Freya and Leiko, who all headed to the medical unit for Emily’s finger check-up, Freya’s rope burn and Leiko’s sudden coughing fit. When he was alone, Ozera sighed deeply, pulling out a clipboard which had the names of every group member. ‘These two, definitely will remain,’ He said, circling two names, ‘But her? She just cannot continue the program.’ Spoiler: Chapter 9 Leiko’s harsh breathing was anything anyone could hear as the majority of C.41 hid behind the beams of the warehouse. The concrete building was relatively nondescript, wooden beams filled the large hall, and shafts of sunlight filled the room from the skylights. But dead centre in the spacious warehouse, lay a C4 explosive, its timer beeped away incessantly. All of C.41 was present, aside from Colin, who sat in front of a set of TV screens, which showed each of the six’s vision. He was their eyes, ears and leader. A look of irritation passed over his face. ‘Snitch, stop breathing so loud!’ He hissed in the comms, ‘You’ll give our position away.’ ‘Give her a break, Colin,’ Clary snapped, ‘We did just take out a bunch of guards, this isn’t easy, y’know!’ ‘Just stay on task, and be quiet about it!’ Alex rolled their eyes but didn't say anything while Leiko clamped her hand over her mouth. The C4 explosive was left on its own; the timer was too small for anyone to see, they needed to get closer. Colin did a once over through the screens before making a move. ‘Seems clear, Omega, escort Truth and Cat to the bomb to disable it. Snitch, Queenie and June, stay alert for any attacks.’ Everyone nodded their affirmations, Alex, Jules and Levi began making their way forwards. Sweat cascaded down Levi's face as she tried to sneak along with the other two. They all wore black, along with helmets and bulletproof vests and a rifle each strapped to them. Jules and Levi had been tasked as the disablers, thanks to their quick wits with technology. As the powerhouse of the group, Alex led the two forwards, eyes roving the room for any movement. Once at the bomb, Levi and Jules began making their assessments, with Jules pulling out particular equipment to start their work. ‘Snitch, go to the other side of the warehouse, we need to cover all angles.’ Colin said in comms, his expression tense. Leiko froze up, her body movements rigid as she did as Colin dictated. Crawling past Alex, Jules and Levi, she reached the opposite side as to where Clary and Leslie stood. The two girls mainly focused their attention on the way the group had entered, waiting for any backup guards to come swarming in. Leiko, on the other hand, looked down at the three in the middle of the room. Originally, Levi and Jules had planned that Levi would carry out the disabling of the bomb, but her nerves were too high, leaving her fingers shaking intensely. So they switched roles, with Levi handing tools to Jules and watching over the procedure for added guidance. During intelligence operatives, they were all taught how to disable an explosive like a C4, and the group of seven decided Levi and Jules were the best at the task. Jules began examining the explosive, grey eyes roving around to find the detonation cord. It was a simple procedure, cut the cord or remove the blasting cap, and then it would be disarmed. However, they didn't get far enough even to pick up the cutters before all hell broke loose. The sound of smashing glass brought up the attention of the seven, seconds later, a strangled scream filled the warehouse. Colin cursed swiftly, watching through the screens to find Leiko being swarmed by a dozen men all in black. Her aim was non-existent, her bullets zipping through the air haphazardly. ‘Queenie, June, get over there! Omega, stay at the explosive site, keep Truth and Cat working.' Colin barked, sweat covering his palms. Clary and Leslie abandoned their posts, dashing across the open area towards the onslaught of bullets. Clary tried to shoot the guards who were directly attacking Leiko but gave up quickly after realising she could shoot Leiko on accident while running. Throwing themselves into the frenzy, Leslie and Clary mostly preferred hand to hand combat, punching, kicking and hitting anyone who got in their way. Alex watched from a distance, teeth gritted as they wanted to join in. The efficiency of the fight was lacking, and eventually, the three girls were going to be swarmed. ‘Let me join them,’ They hissed through comms. ‘Absolutely not!’ Colin retorted, ‘Stay at the bomb si-’ His words were cut off by the sudden screams of Levi as she was thrown by the shoulders. Like her codename, she landed with feline grace a few yards back from the bomb site. She turned to find that swarming in from the entrance were even more guards. ‘We’re surrounded!’ She cried. It was at this point that Alex gave up playing guard, they abandoned Jules who was struggling to disable the bomb with the added pressure, and launched a solo attack on the new guards. Two knives appeared in their hands, wherewith expert ease, Alex tore through the onslaught as if they were paper. Levi joined them, leaving Jules totally alone as they scrambled to disarm the bomb. The blasting cap refused to budge as it appeared it had been soldered onto the explosive, leaving Jules to locate and disconnect the detonation cord shakily. Their pale fingers moved quickly, but not fast enough. ‘Truth, look out!’ Colin shouted, spotting a guard aiming a blade at them. Jules leapt up, scarcely missing the blade as it instead hit their arm rather than throat. Pain lanced through them, they dropped to the C4, eyes wide at the timer. Blood slightly covered the display. Nonetheless, they knew the group was out of time if Jules didn't act then. Using their left hand, they grabbed the cutters; their shaking fingers could barely hold them as their injured arm throbbed relentlessly. ‘Someone come to me!’ They called, dropping the cutters, ‘I can’t disarm it….’ Jules’ voice was barely audible. ‘LEVI, GO!’ Colin shouted, stress and shock accelerating. ‘I’m comi-’ Explosions ripped through the air, the C4 detonated, vaporising everything in its path. Colin watched in defeat as every screen turned black. ‘And that is what I call a complete and utter FAILURE!' Commander Ozera switched the lights in the simulation room on, revealing the seven members of C.41 groaning unhappily. They all wore different layers of gear, which they began taking off. Colin seemed the angriest, ripping his comms unit out of his ear and storming out of the room back into the seating area where C.42 had been watching. As the rest of them trailed out, C.42 gave a slow clap, which further worsened Colin’s mood. With everyone out of the room, Ozera clapped his hands together, silencing the fourteen. ‘Now, can anyone tell me why that was a failure?’ Freya stuck her hand up, ‘Because the entrance was left undefended at the end?’ ‘Correct, what else?’ Karter answered next, ‘Too many people were at the bomb site?’ ‘Mhm, more?’ ‘Organisation of the team was bad,’ Clary complained, ‘Thank you, Colin! You didn’t let our best fighter, Alex, help and you left our worst fighter, Leiko, on her own. The structure of where we were stationed was just in general a mess.’ Ozera replied slowly, ‘That is right… What would you have done if you were the man in the chair?’ Clary shrugged, ‘For starters, not be called the man in the chair. Second, I would station two people on either side of the room; I would make the selection based on each person's skill set, then the last two would disable the bomb.' Ozera smiled, nodding at her, ‘Simple explanation but that is a sound method when placed into practice properly. Tomorrow you will be completing this scenario again.’ ‘Who’ll be on comms?’ Jules asked, massaging their still throbbing arm, while it wasn’t bleeding like the simulation, it still hurt like hell. Ozera paused before answering, ‘I’ll decide that later. Anyway, C.42, you’re up next. Solar, you’re in the chair.’ The seven of them stood, where they headed into the simulation room. Emily couldn't help but shake as she sat in front of the currently black screens and pulled on the comms unit that Colin had encouragingly thrown on the floor. Moments later they were all geared up to go. Ozera hit the lights and called out. ‘This is a hostage situation! Beginning in 3… 2… 1… GO!’ The six screens came to life, showing the individual views of every member of C.42. They stood in a desert land, vegetation was non-existent, and all they could see was sand. On Emily's side, a mission detail appeared, which she read aloud in a shaky voice. ‘H-hostage situation, two kilometres south is a guarded facility which holds our target. Get in the facility, take out the guards and get the hostage out alive.’ Karter pulled out a compass that they all had strapped to their simulated black uniform. Finding south, he readjusted his pack and weapons. ‘Let’s get going,’ He said, breaking into a jog. The humid air made the trek harder, sweat shone on their skin, and all that you could hear were their laboured breaths. They took a five-minute break to refresh themselves with long greedy swallows of water. Another five-minute jog led the group to the shuttered facility off on the horizon. Pulling from her pack, Iris grabbed her binoculars, letting both Emily and herself get a view of the building. ‘Two guards at the entrance,’ Iris said, adjusting her vision, ‘Presumably two at the rear as well.’ ‘Alright, here’s what we will do. Sorrow and Arrow will take down the entrance guards with their firearms. The rest will enter, Robin in the lead. If any guards are directly at the entrance indoors, Robin and Plums will stay behind and dispatch them. Princess and Silent will be the front runners at getting the hostage out. Any questions before we begin?’ ‘Where shall me and Sorrow set up our shots?’ Charlotte asked, checking the scope of her rifle, ‘And when shall we engage on foot?’ ‘As soon as the guards are down, I want you two heading over as back up if Robin and Plums are in immediate danger, I want you to stay outside in case of any changeover of guards. Set up in the most discreet place you can see, and where you know you'll be able to make the shot.' Emily replied slowly, blood roaring in her ears. ‘Understood.’ Karter said as no one asked more questions, ‘Silent, Princess and Plums, with me.’ The four departed, jogging closer up to the facility. They hid behind a mound of dirt, with Karter scanning the vicinity and Kyo watching Charlotte and Iris. The two girls headed for high ground; dust scraped underneath them as they began setting up the sniper rifles. They'd silently agreed to make two shots each, one to disable and one to kill. Sweat covered Charlotte's palms as she took in the guards, they were oblivious to the six. An advantage to C.42 and the detriment of the guards. In hushed voices, the two counted down their shots; silencers were attached to each firearm, making the mission run undetected after the guards would fall. Together, they pulled the triggers, both bullets made contact with their targets. Swiftly, Karter, Naoko, Kyo and Freya broke out into a sprint towards the facility. A second shot was fired, and by the times the four arrived at the entrance, the guards had been reduced to bleeding bodies. They found the entrance door unlocked, so they burst in, guns aimed at any potential threats. The facility was similar to the warehouse in C.41’s scenarios; sunlight burst into the open area through large windows while corners were left in darkness. Standing clustered around the entrance were five guards, with two shots, Karter took down the closest one. Freya remained by his side, while the five guards swarmed to the group. Being the shortest of the four, Kyo and Naoko slipped out of view easily, ducking into the shadows while bullets blazed across the entrance. Outside, Iris and Charlotte were running down the dusty hills, reaching the opening and keeping it shut. No one was getting in, and only C.42 and their target were getting out. Kyo and Naoko ran along the sides of the building, quietly opening a second door into the main room of the facility. The door closed soundlessly shut behind them, leaving them with the biggest task. Ahead of them, was their target tied to a wooden chair, they were gagged and blindfolded. Surrounding the chair were three guards whose attention were all focused on the unmoving person. Neither Kyo or Naoko were the best shooters nor fighters, but even so, they acted. Naoko gestured to Kyo in sign language, indicating he would take the two on the left and leave her with the one on the right. She nodded, understanding everything he said as C.42 learnt ASL in order to communicate with him better. Kyo also signed for Emily, silently communicating so she could talk to the rest of the group. ‘Backup needed, enter the second room as soon as you can.’ Emily translated in the comms. Iris and Charlotte burst into the entrance, watching the last of Karter and Freya's fight with the five guards. With a nod, they all headed to the door, with Freya quickly locking the entrance door to avoid any newcomers. On the count of three from Emily, the four broke in; Karter dashed over to Naoko, who danced across the room, taunting the two guards with his quick feet. Using the butt of his gun, Karter slammed it against a guard's head, knocking them unconscious in an instant. Kyo stood over the dead body of her guard, who she'd slashed down with several strokes of a blade. Iris remained by the door, letting Charlotte and Freya untie their target, who murmured unintelligibly. ‘Hostage saved, on our way out.’ Karter said into his comms, panting slightly. ‘Head to the convoy, it will be there in a couple of minutes to take them back to safety.' Emily replied, beaming happily. Several moments later, the six exited the facility, concluding the simulation. The lights of the simulation room were brought back on, where a cheerful C.41 became clapping in congratulations, even if for some it was begrudgingly. ‘A team that works together survives together.' Ozera said, letting the seven leave the simulation room to sit back down, ‘Congratulations, C.42, that is your seventh completed simulation in a row.’ ‘Woo! I knew you could do it, Emily!' Freya cried, hugging her friend tightly, ‘You were so worried, but you did AMAZING.' Emily flushed, ‘T-thanks, I guess I just got into the mode and forgot about overthinking.’ ‘Awesome shots from Iris and Charlotte, too,’ Freya continued, ‘You two still need to teach me how to aim that well!’ Charlotte smirked, ‘You’ll get there one day.’ Ozera clapped his hands for silence, ‘C.42, you will also be conducting the explosive disposal tomorrow with Arrow in the chair. Understood?' Alex threw their hand up in the air, not waiting for Ozera before speaking, ‘Who on C.41 is actually in the chair tomorrow? You let them know but us, the group that, at no fault of myself, is falling behind.’ Ozera crossed his arms, ‘It's a surprise, in a real situation you wouldn't know who would be comms until you're being shoved into the chair. As notably pointed out, your group is failing, and at this point, you will fail the trials. So stop complaining and get on with it! This concludes today's session, head to drills, now.’ Alex was first to leave, storming down the hallway in order to stop themselves from punching Ozera square in the face. Their fists were clenched, and teeth gritted, they knew the organisation of the team was horrendous, and that almost nothing could make it work. Clary caught up to them, placing her hand on Alex’s shoulder, they lunged ready to hit anyone who came near. She ducked barely, looking stonily at them. ‘Calm down; it was one test run. We still have months of training ahead of us; this is a one-time thing.' She said, eyes narrowed. ‘Yeah, tell that to the other twelve times we all blew up.’ Alex hissed before turning away, leaving Clary to sigh heavily. ‘While I do take some of the blame, don’t shove it all on me, okay?’ Colin said, catching up to her as she stood in the hallway, ‘But Ozera is right, we’re doomed to fail at this rate.’ ‘Yeah, but it is kinda odd that he didn’t tell us who is in the chair tomorrow though,’ Jules said, confusion in their face as they joined the conversation, ‘It couldn’t possibly be a tactic to get us to learn, and it felt like he was lying about it.’ ‘What do you mean, lying?' Clary asked. ‘I dunno, I just got an odd feeling when he answered Alex, he was obviously avoiding the question.’ Clary sighed again, ‘Let’s hope we actually work ourselves out before someone truly does blow up.’ ~ Evening drills and dinner swept past quickly, C.41 were mainly silent for the rest of the day, not talking to one another in angry silence. C.42, on the other hand, while quiet, were talking intensely through sign language. Naoko was the best with signing, as he had learnt many different signs before arriving in Quad C, and the rest of his group was still rusty. Iris enjoyed ASL, for it meant she didn't have to speak, instead, she could use gestures that gave little emotion. They spent the majority of dinner practising different code signs for the explosive situation tomorrow in simulations. Charlotte was most focused; as head of comms, she didn't want to mess up and cost her team's running success rate in the simulations. Leiko spent the whole of dinner stabbing at her peas, the only thing running through her head was Clary’s comment, our worst fighter, Leiko. While she couldn’t entirely disagree with the statement, it still stung. Leiko wondered just how many of her teammates believed she was the worst, and how long they had thought that. Then again, she rarely talked with anyone, sticking to herself at all times. Leiko could remember from her past all the bullying and negativity she had to face from people, which ultimately led to her ingrained emotionlessness. And it seemed to be happening all over again. Dinner ended, and the fourteen headed to the hangar and met with Ozera for the 89th team-building exercise. An unnerving smile reached his face, which threw everyone off as he stood before them, arms crossed. ‘Today’s session is going to be a little different from usual.’ He said, ‘Instead of playing stupid games, you will be completing a test. One that may determine more than you think. Follow me.’ Spoiler: Chapter 10 ‘This can not be good.’ Leslie cried, throwing her hands in the air in defeat. The fourteen had been taken to another outdoor arena, one they had never seen before. It was divided into seven areas, where varying degrees of equipment were set up. Commander Ozera stood in front of them, arms crossed as he let them take in the view. ‘As a said, this is a test. A mock trial if you like.’ ‘This is the trial run… for the trials? Why so early in? We haven’t even been here for three months!’ Colin questioned, voice echoing. ‘Well, technically, tomorrow is the ninetieth day, so we have been here for three months.’ Clary supplied with a raised brow. Colin squinted his eyes at her where he elbowed her in the stomach, ‘Shut up.’ Ozera clapped his hands, ‘Enough squabbling! This will take two hours. Meaning you will be losing tonight's free time.' Everyone began groaning, ‘BE QUIET! You need to take this test seriously, or there will be consequences.’ Freya raised her hand, ‘Such as?’ ‘You don’t want to know. Anyway, you will be completing the seven tasks in pairs according to code. All the 1’s are together, 2’s together and so forth. So group up!’ There was a slight fumbling around as everyone began checking one another’s codes, as C.41.1 and C.42.1, Colin and Karter were together, Jules and Iris were both two, Alex and Emily were three, Clary and Freya were four, Leiko and Charlotte five, Levi and Kyo were six and lastly, Leslie and Naoko were seven. They all stood in order, mumbling quietly to one another before Ozera continued. ‘There are seven tasks that you need to complete with your pair. Knife throwing, rifle shooting, hand to hand combat, low-level hacking, melee combat, a speed test and finally a strength test. This isn't a competition between your pair member; it's a competition between yourself. You may think the pairs are unequal and not fair, which is why you will be judged on your actions alone and no one else. For example, even if Omega continuously won against Solar in hand to hand combat, Solar may also complete the test if she shows her own talent and skill in the fights. Does everyone understand?' ‘Yessir!’ ‘Excellent, 1’s will be starting with knife throwing, the rest of the tasks are in order so 7’s will be doing the strength test. Begin!’ The fourteen split off, heading to each different test setup. Along with the various military equipment, there were also white androids that looked like human figures. It didn't take long for them to realise the bots were demonstrators as well as the things keeping track of everyone scores for the test. Knife throwing was simple enough, Karter and Colin received five knives each and were directed to throw them at the targets fifty yards ahead of them. They were to continue throwing knives until they had to switch over to the next test, both were allowed two breaks each, and every knife throw counted to their score. Beside them, were Iris and Jules holding rifles, their android also had one, telling the two girls how their test would be done. Similarly, they had to shoot the targets ahead of them, and every bullet counted to their score. For Emily and Alex, there were two androids, where both were a part of the demonstration. The two had to carry out at least two matches where their objective was to push the other out of the chalk ring, their opponent is unable to fight, or they surrender. Emily watched the two androids orchestrate the three scenarios while chewing her lip, while Ozera's example had slightly encouraged her, she still couldn't help worrying about fighting Alex who watched the androids with a smirk. Freya and Clary's set up was different from the rest, while everyone had targets or open spaces, the two girls had two desks. The android sat at one of the desks, pulling up two laptops similar to the ones they used in intelligence operatives. Their task was simple enough, to break down at least one set of firewall software. Freya tried to subtly wipe sweat from her palms as she watched the android calmly explain their test, her eyes darted around the desks, trying to remember anything from intelligence operatives. Melee combat was slightly different to the others, instead of Charlotte and Leiko fighting one another, they were to battle a small army of androids using the selected close combat weapons. The board included: swords, knives, spears, warhammers, battle axes and all other types of weaponry. Fear flashed in Leiko's brown eyes before disappearing behind her mask of emotionlessness. Charlotte couldn't help but smile at the shining spears; she had taken a liking to them as they reminded her of twirling batons and with her perfect aim in archery, they made her a force to be reckoned with. Next up were the speed and strength tests. Kyo and Levi stood at the start of a 100-metre track with the simple task of running it as fast as possible. Afterwards, they would cool down and repeat the task until eventually a personal best and average could be calculated. Last but not least, was the strength test, which simply enough included a line up of weights that increased in size. Naoko and Leslie were to bench press 20kg weights for as many reps as possible in one sitting. Their android began explaining the two needed to first warm up first with a set of smaller weights, which they started immediately. Five minutes later, the tests all began. The once open area became enclosed, shutting the seven tests area to hide every activity. It was for the privacy of each pair, along with avoiding any distractions through the tests to keep everyone focused on their own. The only person who had a view of every test group was Commander Ozera, who stood with arms crossed and face stern. ‘Good luck. A lot is riding on this success.' Colin couldn’t help but roll his eyes as he picked up his first knife, ‘Encouraging words, sir.’ Karter shrugged lightly, a small smile on his face, ‘Let’s go.’ Without hesitating, Colin threw his first blade. The targets were made up of four rings, like the archery targets, with a white background, it went black, blue, red and yellow as the centre. Colin's first throw yielded him a red ring, which he cursed silently, grabbing the next knife. Karter smiled again, throwing his first knife which was just shy of the bullseye. This time, Colin swore out loud at his friend's accuracy, who couldn't help but laugh at his colourful language. You’ll get there, Colin,’ Karter laughed, throwing another blade which sank into the blue ring. ‘Just beginner’s luck,’ He seethed, throwing his second which landed into yellow. ‘We started at the same time! How is it beginner’s luck?’ ‘Just shut up! You're distracting me, and I'm winning!' It was at this point the knife throwing android told them to quiet down and focus on the test. The two had almost forgotten about the change in the situation, the seriousness of this test was instantly forgotten. It still felt like to them a normal training session. Even so, they continued, throwing knives over and over until the end of the test. The blur of thrown knives and bright colours made Karter mostly forget his score, but Colin smirked happily at the android who alerted the end for them. ‘Rest assured, I did better,’ He said snarkily as the test enclosures receded. Karter shook his head with a smile, ‘I’m not surprised that you already forgot, but the test is against yourself. Not me.’ Colin scowled, ‘I still did better.’ ~ While Karter and Colin had bickered back and forth, Jules and Iris were silent in the rifle shooting test. Both wore soundproof earmuffs as they fired bullets upon bullets at the human-shaped targets. The two spent the next twenty minutes completing the test, with the android standing obediently beside them, calculating their scores and watching them reload their rifles. Sweat coated Jules' face as they looked at their own bullet-ridden target and then Iris'. It was obvious she was doing better than Jules, as she breezed through the main points of the targets, to the point that Iris' had to be replaced. Jules' target remained the same, with haphazard dents all over the body while Iris had gaping holes from repeated fire through the head and chest. ‘From your previous training sessions, it appears you have both improved! Congratulations.' The android chirped, ‘And this concludes your rifle shooting test! You may move on now.' As the two left the testing station, Iris spoke, ‘You did well. Good luck for the next test.' Her words were brief, but Jules felt a swell in their heart at the compliment. ~ ‘Please go easy on me; I don't want to dislocate any more bones.' Emily said exasperatedly, as she and Alex began their first test. They stood in the chalk circle, already making rounds as they sized one another up. They both had their arms raised and postures rigid, waiting for the other to make the first move. ‘I can’t make any promises,’ Alex replied with a wolfish grin before lashing out. Their quick feet brought them up to Emily with a clenched fist. She barely dodged, flipping to the ground, dust clinging to her bare skin. She wasted no time in acting, sweeping her legs underneath Alex in an attempt to bring them down. They simply backflipped away, Alex's feet inches away from the chalk line as they righted themselves. Emily finally rose, already panting, eyes bright. ‘Since when could you do that..?’ She asked breathlessly. Alex smirked again, ‘We all keep secrets.’ They ran forwards, landing a hit to Emily's stomach. She crumpled instantly; the wind knocked out of her. Even so, she managed to roll out of the way as Alex made for the finishing blow. She hissed in pain, crouching over to bring air back into her lungs. Shuffling to her feet, Emily brought her arms back into a fighting stance, ready for another attack which Alex effortlessly supplied. A roundhouse kick and punch to the chest pushed Emily out of the ring, concluding the first match. ‘Match one complete!’ The android cried, ‘Please head to the benches as your scores are calculated.’ Alex helped Emily to her feet, clapping her on the shoulder, ‘You did alright. I guess.’ She smiled with a shrug, ‘A half compliment is better than nothing.’ The next match was similar to the former, Alex came out on top with Emily pushed out of the ring. She didn't mind losing, rather accepted it. The only thing she fretted over as the android began analysing the two matches was if she had done good enough against herself. Alex completed the test with a permanent smirk, showing their opponent more of their gymnastic skills. They'd never told anyone about their long history of flexibility, scaling buildings and running across roofs of sunny Spain, simply because it wasn't any of their business. However, an ounce of sympathy went through Alex, as they took Emily down again and again. In the typical combat training sessions, they sparred with the taller half of the group and had never seen Emily's skill. Even so, Alex always beat almost everyone in their group, much to Clary, Colin, Karter, and Charlotte's dismay. Iris was the only one they hadn't beaten, mostly because Ozera had ordered the two never to fight again after the disaster of the first team-building exercise. ‘And that is hand-to-hand combat testing completed! You may move on.’ The android said, letting Emily and Alex depart. ~ Clary's fingers itched to get started as their area began to close. She and Freya were already sat at the two desks with laptops respectively. The android was silently booting up their test; digital characters whizzed across the once black screens, the green light illuminated the girls' faces. Freya was glad at the bright light as it hid her own nausea-green face, she remembered nothing. Her breaths came out in rapid successions, as she tried and failed to calm herself down. ‘You may begin,’ the android said calmly. With that the two began the test, Clary scanned the digital characters for the correct word, although she was unsure what it was, she knew from previous sessions it would be familiar to her. Freya, however, struggled to focus on the characters as she stared at the screen so intensely her eyes stung and watered. About five seconds later, Clary smirked as she looked at her screen, she had found the word she needed, Plums and smiled. Immediately her computer's screen began to glow white after she typed it in, the digital characters fading into the blank screen. Freya looked at Clary's screen as it did so, where a new set of digits appeared on the screen, this time a digital clock ticking down from 5 minutes was placed in the top left corner of the screen, Clary was already scanning the words. Freya turned to her own screen, examining it with caution and rapid eye movement, trying not to notice the large clock in the corner with two minutes ticking down. Then she noticed a word that seemed to pierce her memory, she wiped her eyes and typed Queenie into the computer, her screen fading into white. Clary, on the other hand, was furiously typing equations into fifteen different coloured boxes that covered her screen after finding the main word which was, to her displeasure, Ocean. The equations were algebra, which she silently bit back a curse as she typed the answer to (a×2)(b×c) which was ab×2b×ac×2c, making the box disappear and adding seven seconds being to her time limit. She moved onto the next question which was 5×12×a to the power of 2 ÷ 5×5+3+2. Her mind blanked for a moment, as she tried to work out its answer before typing into the computer 2. A few minutes later, Clary finished the task, while Freya did not. The time limit ran out for her, sending the computer system into static as it glitched out. Freya groaned, hitting her head on the table in front of her, Clary couldn’t help but smirk as she watched. ‘And that concludes the hacking test! You may move on.' The android said Freya looked up at Clary who got up and indicated for Freya to join her. ~ Twirling the spear, Charlotte tensed up as the timer of the test began. Leiko was limply holding the first melee weapon she could grab, a warhammer, before she realised her mistake, the board of weapons disappeared. As the ten seconds ticked away, Charlotte quickly gave her companion three knives which she managed to swipe from the board along with two spears. The second was strapped to her back, and sheathed to her thighs were extra knives. Leiko mumbled her thanks, sweat already sticking to the handle of the hammer. 3… 2… 1! As the timer ended, a swarm of robotic humanoids, like the android that watched over the test, filled the enclosed area. While made of white plastic and shining metal, it had the same durability as skin, easy to maim with any one of the melee weapons. Charlotte instantly went for the kill, her shining blade embedding itself into the nearest robot before slashing through another one. Leiko trembled in fear, mainly using the long-handled hammer to keep the attackers away from her. Her arms already ached, the heavy weight of the weapon sapping up her energy, with a huff, she dropped it with a thud. Palming one of the knives Charlotte gave her, she shakily tried to attack. Leiko made two futile swipes, short-circuiting the robot directly ahead, but as it fell, another took its place. Her dark eyes flashed in fear, sending an array of missed strikes to the grouping bots. She yelped, falling onto the ground as all rationality disappeared from her mind. I want this to end! Why do I have to fail so miserably while everyone does so much better than me! Sweat slipped down her forehead, and she squeezed her eyes shut, letting down all defences for the robots and for the test to end. However, Charlotte didn’t hesitate as she threw her spear, its pointed end lodging itself into three robots. Unsheathing her second spear, she leapt over to Leiko in two strides, slashing through the rest of the robots like they were wheat in a field. She pulled her teammate onto her feet before grabbing her first spear from the bodies of the now slightly twitching bots. ‘Stay close to me, take out as many as you can. Don’t lose focus.’ Charlotte said calmly, while she sheathed her spare spear. Five minutes was all it took for Charlotte to clear the rest of the robots. It was near impossible to count how many had entered the test area, so she quickly lost count of how many she tore down. Luckily, Leiko had squared her shoulders and protected Charlotte’s back, though it was significantly obvious the ratio of kills was in Charlotte’s favour. She had just pulled out her spear from the skull of a robot when the android that surveyed the test strode towards them. Charlotte slammed the end of the spear down, a satisfied look appearing on her face as she marvelled in her handiwork. ‘The test is complete! Please return all your weapons, and you may move on.' The android said politely. ~ ‘On your marks!' The android called, ordering Levi and Kyo onto the ground, ‘Get set!' The two raised from their crouching, ‘GO!' The speed test appeared to be the easiest to complete, at least that's what the two girls thought as they first dashed down the 100m track. The scores were kept hidden from them, leaving them in question at how well they did. Kyo and Levi had a four-inch difference in height, so it seemed Kyo towered over her teammate. Neither of them were the best runners, as both had little practice of the sport before starting the training three months ago. After the first sprint, the two were left on the floor panting heavily, sweat was already beading on Levi's forehead, and it almost had nothing to do with the running. The stress of the seven tests ahead of her led her to overthink Ozera's daunting words. It didn't help that the speed test gave the two long periods of time to rest, leaving Levi infinite amount of ridiculous theories and scenarios pop into her mind. ‘It’ll be okay,’ Kyo panted, watching the growing concern appear on her teammate’s face, ‘We’ve been doing well this entire time, we should be okay.’ Levi scrubbed at her face in annoyance, cautious to touch the scars that marred her cheeks. After seeing so many of the others in her group stand unafraid of their scars, Levi stopped wearing the mask she had tucked into her sleeve in the padded cell. But it remained hidden in her drawer, and when no one was looking, she would squeeze it tight for a sense of reassurement. Levi still couldn't remember where the scars came from, even after three months of returning memories. She knew her family, a band of criminals who treated her lesser than dirt; they were the ones she assumed the scars came from. But even then, those memories were hazy, as Levi had only been ten years old when she ran away, they never even went to look for her. So she found another home, one filled with love and trust. Kyo was once in a similar situation as Levi. While neither were very exceptional at running, they were both runaways. She too had left home, escaping her parents’ harshness and having her two younger siblings face what she did. After disappearing one night, Kyo worked tirelessly to eventually afford airline tickets to take the three siblings from Japan to America. It was one of the first memories that came back to her after the remembrance of her own name. She had laid awake the first night, thinking of the airport the too short siblings stood in, carrying small rucksacks that contained all their personal belongings. But even then, her brother and sister’s faces never came back to her, nor their names. Kyo could remember almost everything of the harrowing journey, but nothing the people she cherished most. ‘Please head to the starting lines! The second run will be beginning shortly,’ the android called, beckoning the two girls over, they crouched low at the track, waiting for the signal. ‘On your marks! Get set! GO!’ ~ Naoko and Leslie lay on their own benches, looking up at the 20kg barbells that were rested above them. The android had watched over the two of them warm-up before beginning the test but now decided they could start. With patient, blinking eyes, the android began the test. Both of them were not the strongest, both being quite skinny, even after months of training. But through the endurance training sessions, all of C.41 and C.42 knew the exact techniques of the many weightlifting exercises such as shoulder press and barbell curls. Leslie had a slight bearing of how many reps she could do, but she knew that under the eye of the android, she needed to give everything she had and more. She had already reminded herself over and over that Naoko was bound to be stronger than her as the two started. But Leslie couldn't help but look over at him progressing further than herself. So far, she had completed eight reps with ease. At the beginning of their training, she would never have imagined doing that, a fact that motivated her further. 18, 19, 20! Almost there. Leslie counted, a small smile on her face, even as sweat began to form on her forehead. She strained to twenty-five, a shuddering gasp escaping her as she brought it back down. Her arms shook violently, but she did one last rep before sapping her the last of her energy. 26. The weight slammed against the rest, but she barely noticed as she rolled to the floor, gulping fresh air into her lungs as she muscles screamed. The android gave her a bottle of water and a towel, which she patted her face with. She then spent the next five minutes quietly watching Naoko complete his reps; she could only guess how many more he did than her. He had barely broken a sweat, and only his cheeks were only just reddening. With a sigh, Leslie stared up at the ceiling, listening to her laboured breaths along with Naoko's. Finally, she heard the telltale crashing of the weight being returned to its post. Looking up, she saw Naoko head over to her, breathing heavily with red cheeks and bright eyes. ‘Did you count? How many reps?’ Leslie asked hoarsely, her throat still parched. He raised four fingers and then two, 42 in sign language. She gave an encouraging smile, but anxieties dawned on her. Leslie tried ignoring it, patting the ground next to her and beckoning Naoko to collapse on the floor next to her, where they sat in silence for the rest of the test. ~ The next two hours slid past quickly. All seven pairs were exhausted as the evening faded into nighttime. Bright lights filled the outdoor arena as they all sat on the grass, breathing heavily at the conclusion of the seven tests. Ozera stood to the side, calculating all the results with one of the androids while holding an electronic clipboard. Lights out was in three minutes, thankfully leaving his ending announcements short and sweet. ‘The tests are over, and the specific results will be announced later in the week. Though look forward to the morning drills tomorrow. You may depart to your dormitories, now.' With a huff, the fourteen headed back to the hangar. Inside were dozens of other groups, all aching and complaining like C.41 and C.42. It appeared that everyone in Quad C had completed the seven tests, but none knew their results. ‘Well! That was fun, was it not?’ Colin announced, hissing as he strode forward, his muscles screaming from the strength test. ‘I want to go to sleep and never wake up again,’ Leslie mumbled, stifling a yawn. The rest of the group murmured their agreements and they all groggily leaving the hangar. It didn't take long for the two groups to split to their dorms, no one wasted time to get into bed, as they were all too exhausted to shower up for long. Laying underneath the warm layers of the duvet, Clary felt almost wide awake, somehow having the energy to spare, she began asking questions of the rest of C.41. ‘How did you guys do? What was the best test in your opinion?’ She asked quietly, keeping her voice down. Melee combat was amazing. Those androids barely stood a chance against the dozens of knives I grabbed,’ Alex replied, a wolfish smirk on their face, ‘Emily even managed to hold her own against me in hand-to-hand, though only for a moment.’ ‘I took Karter down waaay too easily; he has all these obvious tells in his attack and defence patterns.' Colin then said. That’s a lie! He’s a better fighter than you!’ Clary retorted. ‘Where’s your proof? You didn’t see our test.’ ‘I’ve seen you two spar a dozen times in combat training, and a lot of the barely he sweeps you off your feet before you can ever raise your arms!’ Laughter erupted from the group; Colin's arguing back being drowned out by the sniggering of the six. Even Leiko was trying to hide her smile underneath the covers, her cheeks red. ‘I'm worried what will happen if we fail, you know?' Levi then said, breaking through the laughter, ‘Ozera said to watch out for tomorrow's morning drills… what's going to happen then?' Sympathy filled Jules, ‘Levi, I bet you did great. Whatever the tests were for, it can’t be anything bad. If they thought we weren’t good enough, we wouldn’t be here. Everyone has progressed so much in only three months, but the trials, you’ll all be unstoppable.’ ‘She's right though,' Leslie replied, ‘Ozera said we didn't want even to know the consequences, but what if we have to face them anyway?’ No one could answer her question, and the seven descended into an uneasy silence. Soon after, exhaustion took over, and they managed to sleep. Even if worries of failure and what was to come plagued their dreams. Spoiler: Chapter 11 ‘I DID TERRIBLY! I’M GONNA FAIL!’ Freya cried onto Emily’s shoulder as everyone began changing. It was the early morning of their sixtieth day, and Freya had finally cracked from the night before. It had only been her paired teammate, Clary, who noticed the sweaty palms, pale skin and look of bitter defeat on Freya's face after they finished all seven tasks. Since then, she was able to cover it up with a blank face, feigning exhaustion rather than complete dread. But it had become too much for her, finally bursting into tears as she relayed the test to Emily, her true one friend. ‘The hacking test just set off this spiral of awfulness! Everything we learnt in operatives completely abandoned me and then melee combat wasn't any better; I still haven't worked out what my preferred weapons are yet! So I just grabbed a set of daggers and a spear, Clary said I did okay, but she did so much better than me! The speed test wasn't any better; I was so tired from fighting all those robots I just wanted to fall onto the floor and cry.' Emily swiped at the tears running down her friend’s face, ‘I’m sure you did fine, Freya. And just because Clary did better than you in melee, doesn’t mean you did badly! It's a competition against yourself; you can't compare yourself to any of us. And you're an excellent runner, and we were all tired, if anything, you probably did amazing, even in the hacking test. And I know you're really good at shooting, we've been practising all week in free-time to get our accuracy up, and you've been doing so well.' She hugged Freya tightly, ‘I have faith in you. You didn't fail.' Freya's pale green eyes glimmered with happiness as she began to wipe at her tears hastily. She gave Emily a small smile in thanks; she was happy to have found such a great friend in the short amount of time they'd all known one another. Emily rose from the bunk bed, disappearing into one of the ensuites to wash her face. Freya stayed where she sat, wringing her hands together to try and calm herself down before the morning drills. Her fingers grazed over the callouses that now decorated the palms of her hands, hinting at the vigorous training they had all only just begun three months ago. Freya sighed through her nose, also rising so she could splash water in her reddened face. Dormitory inspections flew by quickly; all their beds were clean with no wrinkled sheets in sight. Ozera nodded at the tidiness; it was something to be expected, not praised. Throughout the inspection, he kept hinting at the morning drills, sending Freya's stomach churning. The rest of her group seemed calm about the awaited announcements, Iris' face, as usual, was a blank slate, indicating no emotion in the slightest, Karter, Naoko and Charlotte were also all neutral. The only ones of C.42 that seemed to show any emotion were Kyo and Emily. The former because she had always been a bundle of energy in the mornings, as she couldn't stand still during the inspections, even without her beloved cups of coffee. Emily chewed on her lip, concern wrinkling her tanned forehead for fear of her friend. ‘You can all head to the morning drills,’ Ozera said flatly, though a hint of a smirk danced in his eyes, ‘Good luck.’ ~ Lieutenant General Archer stood calm and collected, as she always did, in the hangar. She watched with cool grey eyes as everyone began filling the room. She pursed her lips, eyes averting to the podium before her. A folder lay on the glossy wooden stand, filled with absurdly sensitive information. She touched the cyan folder absentmindedly with a calloused hand, what she was about to tell the young adults that all stood before her with wary glances made her heart sink. But it was a necessity in order to continue everything she had built up in the past two decades. Clearing her throat, Archer began to speak. ‘Good morning everyone. As you all know, all 250 groups completed seven tests yesterday evening. I am pleased to hear that you all took these tests as seriously as the trials, for now before me, I have the initial results of your tests. For the past three months, you have all been training hard and have all exceptionally showed your talents. But I’m afraid to say that even through your efforts, some of you have not made the mark. Therefore, effective and immediately, at least one member from each paired group will be removed from training and will be replaced thus so.’ Fear and shock rippled through the crowded hall, Emily turned to the already pale Freya, who stared up at Lieutenant General Archer in horror. Levi swallowed uneasily, finding a sudden interest in the concrete floor. Quiet murmurs filled the hangar, unanswerable questions floating through the room, sending more fear into the room that Iris could almost taste it. She grimaced slightly, before sliding back into her mask of calm. For out of everyone else, she was the least worried. Alex glanced at Clary warily, whose usual clear face had a sheen of sweat on it. She didn’t meet their heterochromatic eyes, only clenching her fists, which left crescent shapes deep in her palms. Archer continued after a minute of chatter which died down at her curt stare, ‘I shall now begin listing those who will not continue by their codes. Once five members have been named, you shall leave the hangar, where assistants will escort you out of the sector.’ A moment passed as she flicked a page in the cyan folder, ‘C.1.7, C.2.4, C.3.6, C.5.2 and C.7.4, you may all leave.’ Everyone watched awkwardly as five people broke from their groups. One of the females that strode past had tears in her eyes, which she failed to wipe away with shaky hands; a male sauntered down the hall with sadistic hate, his eyes like coals as he glared at anyone who met his eyes. Kyo's usual jittery self had halted, fear instilling into her small frame at those haunting dark eyes. She grabbed at her sleeves, tugging and pulling at the navy fabric with unease. It was going to be a long wait, one none of them were ready to endure. After ten long minutes, after droves of young men, women and all those in between filtered out of the hangar did Lieutenant General Archer’s list near C.41 and C.42. Leslie couldn't bear to meet the eyes of her group members, nausea rolling through her at even the thought of her own removal or her friends. She barely managed to watch Archer with tear-glazed eyes, fearing the worst with no hope left for any of them. Leslie believed she did alright in the tests, but seeing those of all shapes and sizes exit the hangar with the variables of their casting off unknown to everyone, she could only remember every mistake she made in the test. The blades that never hit the inner rings of the knife throwing, the haphazard fire of her assault rifle and the now bandaged arm of Naoko, who she had accidentally struck in melee combat rather than the androids. It’s all over for me. She thought to herself, a lump formed in her throat. Colin gave a quick assessment of the other thirteen in his group, wracking his brain, he slowly began piecing together who was which code. He started the list of C.41, which started easily with himself as C.41.1, then it was Jules who was C.41.2, next Alex was third, fourth was Clary, fifth Leiko, sixth Levi and seventh Leslie. Trickier was figuring out C.42’s code order, something he’d already forgotten. Jules noticed Colin’s dark scanning eyes, speaking softly they filled in C.42 for him. ‘Karter is C.42.1, Iris C.42.2, Emily C.42.3, Freya C.42.4, Charlotte is C.42.5, Kyo C.42.6 and Naoko C.42.7.’ A grim look appeared on their face, ‘I dread to hear any of those codes, but at least one of them or ours will be called.’ Just as Jules finished speaking, Lieutenant General Archer silenced the hangar, ‘C.39.2, C.41.5, C.44.1, C.45.5 and C.47.6 you may all leave.’ Relief flooded Freya; a small noise escaped her in shocked happiness. She held Emily's hand, squeezing so tightly she left marks in her friend's tanned skin. It was the most they could do in the situation, but the two of them were bursting to cry out in joy and hug one another tight. Leslie sighed loudly, the heavy weight disappearing off her chest that tears sprang free from her eyes. A small smile lifted her cheeks; she was safe. But as she turned to the rest of her group, did she realise who was not. Leiko had crumpled in on herself. Breathing harshly, her brown eyes met everyone in C.41; they were all speechless as she began to shake violently. Her head suddenly felt too warm, as blood rushed to her face, burning her cheeks. She swallowed once, pushing down the lump in her throat, pushing down the tears that began to sting her brown eyes. Leiko didn't even know what to say, what to think, what to do. You may leave, you may leave, you may leave. It became a mantra in her mind, Leiko had failed. And now, she had no choice but to be kicked out, to disappear and never see these people that stood beside her. Clenching her fists, she began to move, forcing her stiff limbs to take those first steps out of the crowded group. Everyone parted, like she was a predator, or as if she was diseased. She focused on the ground, not wanting to meet anyone’s eyes. But as she reached the entrance of the hangar, met with the assistants that stood somberly beside it, did Leiko realise one thing. I didn't even know those people; they didn't even know me. All this time, I was already excluded. Alone. This is just proof of that fact, a fact I was so blind to see. It was the only thought in her mind as she followed the assistants, who quietly beckoned her forwards. A small part of her believed this was for the best, as if the knot in her chest had loosened slightly, I don’t belong, but that’s okay... right? The following fifty minutes disappeared quickly until the 1,750 of the young adults in the hangar had diminished by a seventh, leaving 1,500. Lieutenant General Archer's grey eyes flicked across the hall; she marked the grave looks on everyone's faces, but also hints of joy and relief. She gave a small smile that didn't reach her eyes after the last five called had filtered out of the hall. With a hoarse voice, she concluded the drills, ‘Thank you for your patience. Please head to the mess hall to meet your new group members. Continue with the good work, soldiers.’ Archer departed, stepping down from the podium with rigid grace expected from the Lieutenant General. A collective sigh seemed to seep through the walls of the hangar as the woman disappeared. The past hour’s events had now fully sunk into everyone, further enforcing the challenge of the trials that were to come. Slowly, the 250 groups began to leave, all with at least one usual member missing, and were never coming back. Alex loosed a breath, ‘So… Leiko's gone.' They didn't have many memories of the girl, only her sometimes foolish mistakes and the slightly fractured mask of emotionlessness she tried to uphold. ‘And she's to be replaced… just like that!' Levi cried, her eyes were red and glassy, at the fear of her own removal and now Leiko's, ‘How do they know this person will be better?' Colin, always the sleuth, supplied the answer with ease, ‘Apparently, all the new people are already trained soldiers.’ A ripple of conversation began at his words, even those not in C.41 and C.42 craned to hear what else Colin had to say. But he managed to keep his mouth shut, a small smirk developing on his face at the secrets he decided to keep to himself. ‘Trained soldiers? At our age? Why have they only just introduced them?!’ Kyo burst, a mixture of excitement and confusion on her face. ‘Shouldn't we be having a bit more consideration for Leiko??' Freya demanded, ‘She just left, and we all barely knew her! What if this was our fault that she left? What if one of us should have gone instead?' Her shoulders began to shake. ‘We can only focus on the present.' Karter replied, his tone calm and collected regardless of the given events, ‘And we shouldn't blame ourselves. I doubt the decision was based on just those seven tasks from last night; they must have made the right decision. Because, if you do remember, they know what to look for in a soldier… and sadly it seems Leiko didn't have that.' The two groups mulled back into silence, following the crowd of the other young adults to the mess hall. The walk from the hangar wasn’t a long one, but the regularly clogged up corridors from morning drill to breakfast always slowed it down significantly. But today, there was an even slower pace, as if everyone trudged along in mourning of their fellow group members. ‘Why’s it so slow?’ A passerby yelled angrily in the crowded corridor, ‘We’ve got new group members! Why’s none of you excited about that?! COME ON! PICK UP THE PACE!’ Clary rolled her eyes, ‘Some people are just so impolite.’ ‘But he’s kinda got a point,’ Alex said mischievously, ‘A trained soldier as our new group member? You’ve gotta admit that this is interesting. They may also even help us in simulations.’ Clary considered that for a moment, and a small smile pursed her lips, ‘Maybe.’ ~ She had been ordered into the hall an hour ago, which she instantly recognised as a mess hall. The corners of her mouth turned in a smirk as she was directed to a table to sit at. Sliding onto the metal bench, she watched with a critical eye as many others filtered in. Half an hour had passed before finally a total of 250, including herself, now filled the hall. No one dared to speak. Instead, they all remained neutral in the mess hall. All were waiting for what was to come next. Clasping her hands together, she made a mental checklist of everything she remembered. She had awoken in a padded cell, zip ties on her wrists. It didn't take her long to rip them off, cursing at the pain that lanced through her skin. But that feeling had brought back some incriminating information. My name is Robyn Winchester. I am twenty years old; I live in New York, I am a soldier that has spent the last three months trying to solve the disappearance of 28,000 young adults worldwide. And last but not least, something royally messed up has happened. That was two hours ago, and those words pounded through her like a drum beat. Eyeing the others around her, Robyn noticed their looks of inquisition and confusion. They too knew something important, something that could damn them all. She tucked that information away, marking the faces of as many of the 250 to question them alone. But it seemed whoever led this base was one step ahead of them all. A woman entered the mess hall; she wore Lieutenant General uniform, which urged Robyn to stand to attention and salute. Instead, she grimaced, eyes scanning the grey-eyed woman. ‘Good morning, my name is Lieutenant General Archer, you are all probably wondering why you are here. But for now, please have some refreshments.’ Instantly, glasses of clear liquid appeared, coming from a small hatch in the table which disappeared as quickly as it appeared. Realising how parched she was, Robyn gingerly took the glass, first taking a quick whiff of the drink. Water. It’s water, you idiot. She thought to herself, finding no scent curling off of it nor any powders floating through the water. With a quick glance at the others who sat around her, she took a swig. Its taste curdled in her mouth, Robyn attempted to spit it out, but it was gone as if absorbed into her tongue. Then everything went blank. My name is Robyn Winchester. I am twenty years old, I live in New York, and I am a soldier. Spoiler: Chapter 12 The mess hall doors whammed open as thousands of young adults crammed themselves into the spacious eating area, though none were focused on the food. Dotted around on the 250 tables were silent individuals, each one had glassy eyes just before the slam of the doors brought them all back to semblance. Robyn blinked quickly, snapping her head up to those that halted at the entrance. She gave a small smirk, turning to face the on comers that stood stopped at the door. Robyn scanned each one of them for half a second as they all slowly began making their ways to their designated tables. She had already noted that every table had a small metal label on a corner, so she sifted through the crowds, hunting for C.41. It wasn’t a surprise to any of C.41 that Colin saw their new member first. Although sat down, he made the quick guess that she was shorter than him, but still taller than the majority of the other girls, hopefully placing her in his fighting group along with Iris, Alex, Karter, Charlotte and Clary. A grin appeared on his face as Colin began sizing up everything about her. She had fair skin with no visible markings on her face, though on her slender hands he noted slivers of scarring and chipped nail polish. She had shiny black hair, that cascaded down in perfect waves before trailing to bright green at the base of her shoulders. Colin's quick pace had him standing before her in an instant, so she stood, angling her head to also size him up. ‘Hello, Leiko’s replacement,’ he murmured, a devilish grin on his face. She arched a dark brow, ‘Is that all I am? A replacement?’ Colin crossed his arms, looking down at her, ‘Unless you’ve got something to prove, then yes.’ A red-lipped smile broke through her face, grey eyes lighting up in challenge, ‘We’ll see about that.’ It was at this point that the rest of C.41 arrived at the table, C.42 close on their heels. Clary grabbed Colin's collar, yanking him back so she could replace where he stood. ‘Hello, I don’t suppose Colin refrained from his snide comments?’ She said sweetly before eyeing Colin with dark intensity. ‘Just a fun little nickname, that’s all. I don’t suppose Leiko remains in your ranks?’ They all gaped at Colin, Clary ready to smack him in the face before he shrugged lightly, ‘What? We can’t let her off easily.’ ‘How about instead of talking about that, I’m Jules! Nice to meet you,’ they supplied, a small smile on their face. ‘Likewise.’ Robyn replied, head still cocked to one side slightly, ‘I am Robyn Winchester. And apparently,’ she paused for a second as she glanced at her wrist, ‘The new C.41.6. Is that correct?’ They all slowly nodded, the wound still fresh at the loss of Leiko. Even if they all realised how little they bonded with her, it still stung to see her go so coldly. Robyn cleared her throat, forcing the six to snap out of the awkward silence. ‘So, breakfast then? You have much to fill me in.’ The mess hall was a flood with chatter, the new soldiers intriguing everyone. Robyn quickly ran through everything else she remembered, her age, 20, her height, 5’7 and that she was a soldier. After that, she began demanding all sorts of information about the compound. ‘So, there are four sectors, North, South, East and West. We're in the Western Sector as we all were living in America during sign-ups,' Jules chirped, ‘There are then four quads in each sector, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta. We're in Charlie, hence why our codes are C.41. There are then 250 groups and seven members in each group. Totalling up to 1,750 of us in Quad C.’ ‘And you are grouped with them?' Robyn pointed at the C.42 table with a fork, ‘It’d be great if they could join the conversation, you know.’ Jules’ eyes widened at that, forgetting all about their group mate, ‘Yes! Uh, guys,’ they called to the others, ‘Do you all wanna meet Robyn?’ Freya was the first out of her seat, squeezing in beside Jules and Clary. All the tables were large enough for fourteen people, but it became very squished if they did so, which Freya wholly ignored. ‘Hi! I’m Freya. Also Plums.’ Robyn raised a brow, ‘Plums?’ ‘Oh!’ Jules cried, ‘I didn’t get around to it, but we all have codenames, courtesy of our commander.’ ‘Ozera. Yeah, he sounds like a lovely man with a codename like that. Any clue why you are Plums?’ ‘Well, when we first got here I had purple hair, so he kinda made fun of that I guess.’ ‘Charming man, huh?’ Robyn replied before turning to the rest of C.42, ‘And you all are?’ Karter was next to reply, ‘I’m Karter, this is Naoko, still at the table are Iris, Kyo and Charlotte.’ The latter two waved jovially at her, ‘And Emily has gone to get more food, I think.’ ‘Yep! She’s getting me more too,’ Freya giggled, a smile bright on her face. ‘So that means,’ Robyn began marking everyone’s faces, already memorising even the slightest of details in each person before her, ‘I’m all caught up! Besides those codenames you mentioned…’ ‘They're not too difficult to remember, they all have a meaning about all of us. Though we still haven't worked out every single meaning yet. Freya is Plums due to her hair. Emily is Solar ‘cause her surname is Sunshine. We're guessing Clary is Queenie because of her accent. Karter is actually Robin, so that might get confusing, because of his tattoo. Naoko is Silent because he's well… silent. Charlotte is Arrow because of her archery skills. We're also guessing Levi is Cat because she's kinda skittish. Leslie is June because she was wearing an alexandrite necklace on the day of codename choosing.' Jules said. Clary then followed up, ‘Besides from that, we don’t know the reasons. But without further ado, we have Colin as Ocean, Alex as Omega, Jules as Truth, Kyo as Princess and Iris as Sorrow…’ ‘Last one's a bit morbid, no?' Robyn asked, glancing up at Iris who appeared to be staring off into space but was actually listening to everything the group said, ‘But you guys have no clue with them? None?' ‘Well, Alex is probably Omega cause of their wolfish nature? I guess. Kyo has an inkling her codename is to with something that happened in the past, but she can't put her finger on it. We haven't seen the ocean, so we're clueless with him. Iris isn't close enough with any of us really, so everyone's afraid to ask…' Jules trailed off. ‘And yourself? No clues?’ ‘Well, sometimes I get this feeling that…’ They glanced to the side, grey eyes catching that of one of the commanders talking to one of the cooks, ‘Never mind. Forget it.’ No one caught their quick glance up, besides Robyn and Iris. A question arose in the former's mind, but she didn't push it. Instead, Robyn asked, ‘So what's after breakfast? I'm assuming you all have timetables.' ‘Right! Yes,' Jules said, glad to end that conversation, ‘We all received a timetable on the first day on our beds, but for the time being, I'll just tell you it as the day goes on. After breakfast, we have combat training.' Robyn’s eyes flashed with amusement as she glanced at Colin, ‘Guess I can start proving myself then. No?’ ~ They met with Commander Ozera twenty minutes later in the sparring halls, his only acknowledgements to Robyn was her new codename, Nightingale, and that she was in the taller group. He crossed his arms, a devilish grin on his face as he began running off some more announcements. ‘I have the results of the hand-to-hand combat test you all participated in last night. Strangely enough, you all fought valiantly… bar one.' A long pause followed, the uneasy silence emphasised by Ozera's unsettling smile, ‘Here they are.' HAND-TO-HAND COMBAT 1ST - SORROW 2ND - OMEGA 3RD - ROBIN 4TH - ARROW 5TH - OCEAN 6TH - SOLAR 7TH - QUEENIE 8TH - SILENT 9TH - JUNE 10TH - TRUTH 11TH - CAT 12TH - PRINCESS 13TH - PLUMS 14TH - SNITCH A clamour of noise followed as the thirteen devoured the information with hungry eyes. It seemed no surprise to see Iris at the top of the list, which followed the now grumbling Alex as they glanced at her. The two were still banned from fighting in training, leaving no chance of improvements for the latter. Colin let several curses fly from his mouth after seeing both Karter and Charlotte had surpassed him; he gave the two ugly looks before complaining about it to Clary who simply rolled her eyes. Emily's tanned complexion had bleached ghastly pale at her high result, she had thought going against Alex would lead to utter failure, but it seemed to make her chances better. Looks of relief primarily washed over everyone's faces, besides Freya, whose eyes had glazed over in shock. Inches away from last, inches away from removal, so, so close. Maybe it should have been me to leave. She thought miserably, feeling a lump form in her throat. Ozera clapped his hands together, silencing the two groups, ‘Now. Shall we continue? Get into your usual groups, Nightingale; you're with Sorrow and that lot.' Robyn gave a mock salute, ‘Roger that.’ Colin seized that moment to drag her over to a sparring mat, ‘Time to prove yourself, eh?’ She raised an eyebrow, laughter in her eyes as she glanced him up and down, ‘This will be a spectacle for all to see.’ While everyone paired up to begin their own training, Colin could still feel everyone’s eyes glance over at the two of them. They all wanted to see what she was made of, why she joined later than the rest, what a soldier like her could do. Robyn had already known this attention would drape her like a cape for the next coming weeks at least, so she was more than ready to impress. ‘We should probably warm up first,’ she warned, watching Colin jog up and down in anticipation, ‘You don’t want to tear anything just yet.’ He rolled his eyes but thankfully stopped as he began stretching his arms, ‘Are you afraid to get your butt kicked? Slowing down what is yet to come?’ She eyed him suspiciously, ‘Not quite. It’s more like I don’t want to fight someone who’s already hurt, it’s my job to injure you. Not your own foolishness.’ Clary had jumped into the conversation, inching to grab Robyn into a massive hug, ‘I like her. We’re keeping her.’ Even Alex seemed impressed at her quick tongue, for usually, it was them who was the best at comebacks. Iris had set herself up on the edge of their group, her unspoken decision that she would sit out while everyone else paired up in the seven. As she warmed up alone, she noted the movements of Robyn, considering whether or not she was all bark and no bite. Charlotte and Karter paired up together, as they usually did murmuring in French together after the two found out they were both fluent. Since that, Kyo had started up the rumour that the two were a thing, which didn't end well for her. ‘Come along Alex!’ Clary cried, ‘I want a good view of Colin losing!’ She dragged Alex over to a mat opposite Colin where she plopped down on the mat and began stretching her arms lazily. Alex rolled their eyes, ‘Typical.’ Five minutes later, Colin and Robyn were circling one another, arms tense as they watched one another’s movements. The hall was near silent beside from the shuffling of the vinyl mat beneath their feet. They were on the second circle around before Colin spoke. ‘Scared? You seem hesitant.’ He taunted. Robyn halted, a dangerous smile on her face, ‘Hesitant? No… not at all.' And then she pounced. ~ ‘Stop moping, Colin! You look so sad.’ Leslie said teasingly as she tried to pinch his aching cheek. ‘Shut up.’ He growled. ‘You can't really blame him; he did get his butt kicked.' Levi said sympathetically, though a hint of laughter reached her chestnut eyes which she tried to suppress, ‘You did really well!' ‘Actually,’ Alex drawled, mischief lighting up every nerve, ‘Robyn had him down in less than ten seconds flat. He didn’t even get a hit in.’ ‘I said shut up!’ He shouted, causing a round of laughter from Leslie and Alex while Levi beamed uncontrollably. ‘Hey! You four! Stop slacking and get back to training!’ Ozera yelled, his ice blue eyes swallowing them whole. They mumbled their apologies before grabbing up their discarded weapons. They were all in the weaponry, practising with more melee weapons. Even after an hour, the excitement of Robyn and Colin's fight had not been forgotten. After halting her circling, Robyn had punched him square in the cheek and swiped his legs beneath him. In seconds, she had left him groaning and cursing on the mat without breaking a sweat or losing her smirk. Since then, it became obvious that Robyn knew what she was doing, and that Colin's cockiness had finally been beaten down, for now. At the start of the session of weapons training, Ozera gratefully gave the group’s results for melee combat and knife throwing from the test the night before. MELEE COMBAT 1ST - SORROW 2ND - ARROW 3RD - OMEGA 4TH - OCEAN 5TH - ROBIN 6TH - QUEENIE 7TH - SILENT 8TH - CAT 9TH - JUNE 10TH - TRUTH 11TH - SOLAR 12TH - PLUMS 13TH - PRINCESS 14TH - SNITCH KNIFE THROWING 1ST - OMEGA 2ND - ARROW 3RD - SORROW 4TH - OCEAN 5TH - SILENT 6TH - ROBIN 7TH - QUEENIE 8TH - CAT 9TH - JUNE 10TH - SOLAR 11TH - TRUTH 12TH - PLUMS 13TH - PRINCESS 14TH - SNITCH It was becoming obvious what sort of pattern lay ahead in all the fighting test areas as Iris, Charlotte and Alex were all on top for both tests. Alex couldn’t help but begrudgingly agree that Charlotte deserved the second spot for melee combat with her formidable skill with a spear. But they were pleased to their extreme talent with short blades had outshone even Iris. Leslie, Levi and Alex returned back to the main cluster of the fourteen, the latter twirling two knives with quick ease. Leslie and Levi giggled together as they spoke in hushed voices, though they kept glancing back at Colin who was staring blankly at an axe on the wall. Kyo sat with Charlotte, demanding she'd teach her how to fight better with the weapons before them. Their results in the melee combat test were exact opposites, with Kyo second last and Charlotte second. Kyo tried to keep her voice steady, but her usual energetic and chirpy self was significantly missing. She twirled a strand of her still bluish hair; her bright eyes dimmed slightly. ‘Rifle shooting is so much better for me; I can't hold my own against anyone. Not really any way…' She murmured, examining the callouses that decorated her friend's hands, which were lacking on her own, ‘Am I not trying hard enough? Is that the case?' Charlotte crossed her arms, ‘Let’s head back here for free time, yeah? But for now, what are you most comfortable with?’ Kyo cringed, ‘Nothing! I worry I will cut myself with the knives, and the spears are too tall, and the axes are too heavy, same with the hammers, the whips seem too impractical and…' She continued prattling on until her words became almost meaningless. Charlotte simply nodded, ‘Let’s just start with the basics again.’ They headed over to the mass array of daggers and knives. Charlotte palmed three of the blades, pocketing two at her waist and handing another three to Kyo. She nervously followed Charlotte's actions, sheathing two blades and holding the one. The weight of the knife was barely noticeable, but she couldn't help but stare at it with a sense of fear, which Charlotte saw pass over her friend's face. ‘Don't be afraid of the knife. Otherwise, we'll get nowhere.' Charlotte said firmly, eyeing the straw dummies ahead of them, ‘Let's do some basic manoeuvres.' ‘Alright…’ Kyo said shakily, though her grip of the knife was tighter as she began psyching herself up. Robyn watched the two from a distance away; she had just retired a warhammer back to its stand after marvelling at the crude beauty of it. She watched with a critical eye as Charlotte taught Kyo how to attack a target efficiently, the techniques were correct as far as Robyn could see, but she found the spectacle puzzling all the same. ‘You’ve all been here for three months, yes?’ She asked Clary, who had stuck closest with the soldier. ‘Yep, we’re pretty much all rookies in the art of fighting. Besides the few exceptions,’ she nodded at Iris and Alex who stood at opposite ends of the weaponry, ‘We still don’t really know where Iris learnt everything she knows, and she doesn’t seem very willing to reveal it.’ ‘So even after three months of assumed normalcy, you’re all still recovering from memory loss? Doesn’t make much sense.’ ‘Well most of us have remembered everything. There are just some tidbits that smack us in the face like, ‘How could I forget about that??' You know?' Clary replied. ‘I hope I'm in that boat; there's something up with this place that's nagging at me. But I can't place my finger on it.' Before Clary could reply, Emily and Freya both came over to the chatting girls. A sheen of anxiousness covered their faces as they approached. Clary gave a small smile, already knowing what they were going to ask. ‘H-hi, Robyn!’ Freya began, taking a deep breath, ‘We were wondering if you could help us with some things… you know?’ Robyn beamed, her wicked smile lighting up her dark grey eyes, ‘Of course! Is there any specific you need help with?’ She raised a brow. ‘Well we were both at the bottom of the melee combat test, besides Leiko,’ Emily added hastily, ‘So I guess with that.’ ‘I'm assuming you two are both rifle girls, yes?' The two nodded, ‘Then I guess you'd be more suited with daggers and knives like Kyo over there. I'm like that too; guns are my favourite.' She smiled again, ‘It's probably easiest if you join Charlotte over there, she knows what she's doing. But if you need help with guns or hacking, just shout.' ‘Oh, thanks!’ Freya exclaimed, happiness on her face as she thought, Guns and hacking? What can’t she do!? The two departed, joining Kyo and Charlotte as they worked with the blades. Robyn’s smile was gone, replaced with a quizzical look. Clary decided that she would see that face often. ‘I still don’t get it. Soldiers to save the entire world, and they choose people who fear knives? And only bring in a handful of actual soldiers?’ She glanced across the room to where Ozera stood, ‘None of this makes sense.’ Clary shrugged, a light smile on her face, ‘Everyone has their talents. Though not as flashy or impressive such as yourself. Trust me.’ Robyn raised an eyebrow, ‘Let’s test that theory out.’ She rose, marching over to Naoko, Levi, Leslie and Jules, ‘I mean, I still haven’t gotten to know everyone, right?’ As she approached, Jules smiled brightly at her, ‘Hi Robyn! How’s your first day of training so far?’ ‘Quite lax in comparison to my first days as a cadet but enjoyable nonetheless,’ she replied politely, ‘So, I’m still connecting people to skills, can you fill me in with some of your own talents? My dear friend here,’ she indicated Clary smirking, ‘Says you all have talents that are the reason why you’re all here, yes?’ Jules nodded animatedly, ‘I would assume so. My strongest point would be agility and stuff. Although I’m not the fastest, I still can scale the climbing walls the quickest. My reflexes are quite fast too, I guess.’ Robyn nodded, ‘What about you guys? Levi?’ Levi’s eyes brightened at her name being remembered, ‘Well… I would say I’m stealthy? As the shortest, I get that perk of disappearing into crowds and stuff. Long-distance firearms are my preferred weapon of choice too.’ ‘I've noticed that pattern in most of you. It seems like everyone here is meant to fit into society and then take everything to hell without even being noticed. Would be impressive if done correctly…’ She trailed off, realising she was entering her own thoughts, ‘Anyway, Leslie?’ ‘I'm not too sure… being honest, being fast? It's not really the best talent in the world, but that's what I've got.' She replied sheepishly. ‘Like Clary then? Which one of you is the fastest?’ ‘I guess we’ll find that out in agility training with the test results.’ Clary smiled. ‘Last but not least, Naoko?’ Robyn asked. He shrugged before making a slash with his hands in the shape of an X, which in ASL was ‘hack’. He didn’t know if the newcomer would understand, so he kept it simple so that maybe his other companions would get the gist of his actions. Robyn nodded slowly, a slight look of puzzlement in her eyes appeared and disappeared within a second before she spoke. ‘Sadly I never learnt sign language, though some other divisions in New York used it as a stealth tactic instead of any other made up tells we used. Sorry about that, though if you could teach me any that would be fantastic.’ Naoko nodded in understanding, though he wished he had his whiteboard. After teaching C.42 the basics of ASL, he had since abandoned it as he trusted them to be able to understand what he was saying through hand movements. C.41 were straggling behind in the language too, with only Levi the closest with him, learning scraps of it. However, even she was stumped at his actions, though not at his best skill. ‘He's amazing at hacking!' She said. Naoko's face flashed in relief, ‘He's one of the primary hackers of the thirteen of us, along with Kyo and Emily. Jules and I are actually the secondaries too.' Her face heated in pride. ‘Seems like I’ll be joining your group of specialist hackers then, maybe then you could teach me.’ Robyn replied. Naoko nodded, dark eyes scanning Robyn's for a second before returning to pick up the throwing axes still lodged into the target before him. He had taken a liking to the bladed weapons after everyone else had stolen the throwing knives for their own practices. The skill was similar, so honing Naoko honing his ability at axe throwing earned him fifth place in the knife throwing test. Along with the majority of C.41 and C.42, he preferred long ranged weapons, so the two axes were a perfect medium, though there was more difficulty in concealing them in comparison to daggers and knives. Yanking the axes out of the near centre of the target board, Ozera yelled at the fourteen. ‘Return all weapons now! Weapons training is over. Meet in the gymnasium, stat!’ Robyn turned in question to Jules, ‘What’s next then?’ They smiled, unsheathing a blade to place it back, ‘Agility training.'