The next day, I'm in fighting class before it starts. My plan is to follow Brev discreetly after class until he gets to an area with no bystanders.
When everyone else has entered, the instructor begins her lecture. "I noticed while studying the recordings that a lot of you are underusing Pygon attacks."
Brev gives me an "I told you so" look. I ignore him.
"Pygon abilities do have a major drawback of running the fighter out of physical stamina very quickly, but without them you'll never win a fight against someone who knows how to use them well. You should use power attacks when you need extra force to get through a block. Don't use them when the enemy looks ready to dodge and waste your energy. A particularly good time is when the enemy has just dodged and won't be able to do so again immediately, so they're blocking instead. Power attacks can turn the tide in such a situation."
Most of the cadets nod as the instructor pauses. I don't. This is elementary to me.
"I'll show you the recording of a fight that was particularly well executed in this regard on the part of one combatant yesterday: Telra versus Brev. Brev actually overuses them in this fight, so watch Telra." I smile as the instructor pulls up the video and begins to highlight all the times when I did or didn't use a Pygon ability.
The instructor lectures for a little longer, talking about speed swings and stabilized blocks, and then pairs us for sparring again. Since no one can compete with me, I'm given two opponents: Stef, and a girl named Ashley. I'm excited to try my hand at an uneven fight for the first time... One that's still reasonable, that is.
It's not a hard decision to go after Stef first. I approach close enough to draw his opening swing, but leap to the side opposite Ashley to avoid it, then get in my first hit already using a speed swing and use my other sword to block his counterattacks with reinforced strength - which turns out to be a waste since he doesn't even think of using power attacks.
Ashley catches up now, and I have to withdraw. They try to back me into a corner, but I circle around them on Stef's side and land another good hit using two horizontal power attacks. Stef blocks but doesn't use Pygon stabilization so my blades knock his aside and connect with his flesh. I retreat again just before they can gang up on me.
I back up until I hit the wall, then try to circle around again. They're smarter this time. Stef backs away and puts up a double block as Ashley attacks me while I'm focusing on him. I manage to hit Stef again by swinging below his block, but Ashley gets in a good double power hit on me.
I let out a cry of pain. Double power hits are devastating even through Pygon protection. I retreat a bit, drawing Ashley out in front of Stef, and then knock both her swords aside with a power hit while slashing her across the stomach with my second sword. I retreat again just in time to avoid getting ganged up on.
Stef stays with Ashley instead of pursuing, fearful of taking another hit like that. I take the opportunity to idle for a bit and catch my breath. When I approach again, he steps back to put her slightly in front. I've noticed that cowardice and cruelty are often found together. I smile. It presents a perfect opportunity to circle around Ashley's other side and sneak in a speed hit on her. This time she steps back to Stef's distance, and Stef steps farther back, each one wanting the other to be in front. I back them into a wall this way and decide it's time to deal the final blow to Stef. I circle a bit and then go in recklessly seeking to trade hits instead of defending myself. I trade one for one on Stef, whose companion declares him out, and jump back before Ashley, who's too coward to take advantage of my vulnerability, can get me back. I idle some more, utterly exhausted from Pygon spamming.
"I surrender!" Ashley says. "Don't hurt me any more!"
"You can't surrender," the instructor says. "You don't get combat practice if you surrender."
I deal her a few more hits and her companion declares her out too. "Well done, Telra," the instructor says.
Ashley gasps in pain. "Telra, why? I surrendered..."
I begin to feel a little remorse for it as I sit down for a much-needed rest. This girl didn't wrong me, and cadets should have the right to concede a sparring match just as we have the right to drop the class. But I do believe that cowardice moved her closer to deserving it, so I don't feel that much remorse. Anyway, I look over to see how Brev is doing.
I'm disappointed to find him having defeated his opponent, although not surprised. Soon enough everyone's finished, and we go to the medical wing again.
Brev turns a different way from his wingmates after we're all healed and out. I follow him. Is he really this stupid? To not stick with his wingmates at all times after what happened yesterday?
I follow him for a while, until I reckon we're in a sufficiently discreet area - an unoccupied alley - and then punch him. "You're gonna pay, you id-"
Almost immediately Stef, Sally, and Logan jump out of hiding and block both escape directions. Brev smiles cruelly.
"Shit!" I figure I might as well hurt Brev as much as possible before they get the better of me, so I go full offense, paying no mind to defending myself. I get in several good blows on him before I find myself on the ground again with four other cadets beating on me.
But this time I get lucky. The boy from last time arrives on the scene before they can force another apology out of me, and says "You! Stop! I'll call the police!"
"Run!" I say through my pain. "Don't let them get you!" But he's too slow. Brev chases him and tackles him before he escapes.
The boy shouts in pain and says, "You win! Don't hurt me!" He gives Brev his companion.
"Excellent," Brev says as he begins to delete the recording. "Your cooperation is appreciated." Sally deletes mine in the meantime.
Before they go, Brev turns to me. "Telra, please be reasonable this time. I don't want to hurt you."
"Cut the bullshit," I say. "What's your plan for if I call the police anyway? Even without proof, they'll investigate it, and you must know I'll resort to that before I give into you."
"I knew you'd try vigilantism at least once first. And now that you have, you can't call the police because my companion conveniently ran out of battery as soon as you attacked me." He smirks as he holds it up to show that it's off. They leave.
I try to get up, but still can't. The boy puts his companion back on. "I'll call the police."
"No wait!" I say. "I thought you were gonna let me handle this!"
"You tried, and look how it ended. But now that I'm a witness too, I can report them without incriminating you. I'm going to do that."
"I'll bribe you!"
The boy's eyes dart left and right. "Uh... okay. With what?"
"I don't know. Ten digicoins."
"Great." I don't want to actually pay him, so I think of an excuse. "I can't make the transfer right now because my companion... is a new one and I haven't set up my information yet. But I'll meet you here tomorrow at the same time."
The day after that, I have a plan. I'm done losing to those assholes. I show up at the office of administration wearing a makeshift mask made out of paper and tape with eyeholes, and say to the clerk, "Hey, I need to access your student database and if you won't cooperate I'll hurt you."
The woman takes a minute to find words. "What the... who are you? And why are you wearing that ridiculous thing?"
"I don't think it's that hard to figure out. Now will you give me your companion, or do I have to hurt you?"
The woman stands up out of her swivel chair. "Looking at me and looking at you... I'm tempted to think I have the advantage in physical force?"
I smile, although the woman can't see it. "Physical force maybe, but not skill. I promise I can take you down. Now you've got one last chance."
The woman steps back a bit. "I guess I'll be telling the police about this. If you're really going to try me, do it."
"Alright!" I was been secretly hoping it would come to this. "Just remember, if you make too much noise I'll have to kill you." I attack so aggrerssively that the woman can't keep up with defending herself, let alone find an opportunity to hit back. Before long she's on the ground with me standing over her.
The woman gasps in pain as I take her companion. "What the hell... who are you, kid?"
I ignore her while I use the database to find Brev's information. It's time for a home visit.
I look back at the woman on the ground. "Alright, I'm done. I'm sorry you made me hurt you. Now have a nice day." I tossed the companion back to her and walk out. It's unfortunate to have to miss class today, but compared to this, nothing else matters.
I stand near Brev's house, behind a row of trees from where the turboline ends. When he hops off his car, I wait for him to pass, and then begin to trail him.
He hears me coming and turns around in time to block my first hit. "The hell -" he starts, and then sees who it is. "Shit."
I smile. "You're gonna pay for what you did to me!"
I continue the assault. I fight ferociously, and while Brev puts up much more of a fight then the clerk, he's still no match for me when I'm this angry. Before long, he's on the ground, bruised and bleeding, and I kick him in the stomach. "Do you regret it?" I borderline scream.
"Not good enough!" I kick him again. "You were a fucking monster to me, and if you think a simple apology will fix that you're damn wrong!"
"Please!" Brev cries. "I'll - I'll make it up to you!"
I stop beating on him. "Now we're talking. Here's the deal: I want you to help me do this same thing to your wingmates. And I'll need you to come up with some way to prove I can trust you."
A few neighbors are watching the scene now. I realize there's no way to explain this in a way that will put them on my side. Even if they knew the true story, most people consider this kind of vigilantism unacceptable.
"You'd better go," Brev says. "I'll see you in class tomorrow, and you'll have your revenge."
I take off, wondering how tomorrow is going to go. Is Brev actually intending to help me? It seems doubtful. But he probably knows that if he ambushes me again, I'll kill him, and so his only other option is to kill me. I don't know whether he's willing to go that far over his desire to be the best. I'll have to guard against the possibility while somehow still giving him the chance to help me.
The next day, I arrive in the training room.
"Telra," the instructor says, "I missed you yesterday. Did you decide you're far enough ahead you can afford to skip a day?"
"Yeah, actually. Used the extra time to study more for my technician class."
"I'm surprised you're even in other training programs. You're so good at fighting, and you seem to enjoy it so much, I would think you would have dropped everything else to pursue your bright future as a soldier."
I can't reveal my little problem, so I make up excuses. "Well, I do like fighting and all, but the constant pain is a downside, and technology is also really interesting, in it's own way."
"Fair enough. Well, I guess I'll start class."
Brev and I are out of the medical wing slightly before his wingmates, due to having won our fights. "Here's the plan," Brev says. "I'll lead them into the alley, and I'll prove you can trust me."
"Sounds good." I make off before the others get out and see me standing with Brev.
I wait from on top of a building where I can observe the alley. Brev and his wingmates walk in, and Sally says, "So Brev, what's up this time? Are we really expecting her to fall for the same trap twice?"
"I have a plan," Brev says.
"May I know what it is?"
"Telling you would spoil it, so I'll show you." Brev turns around and deals Sally a savage blow to the face.
"What the hell?" Stef says as Brev continues to beat on Sally. Brev doesn't answer.
"Help me, you idiots!" Sally says, taking a kick to the stomach.
Stef and Logan try to restrain Brev. Both take a punch. I let them fight it out for a little while, until they've all sustained some injury and the other two boys are clearly getting the better of Brev. Then I jump in.
As I attack Stef, Logan tries to run, so I chase after him and leave Brev to deal with Stef. I catch Logan and unload my fury on him.
Looking back a minute later, I find Brev having defeated Stef. All three wingmates are on the ground, bruised, bleeding, and whimpering for mercy.
"What the hell...?" Stef says. "Brev, what the fuck?"
Me and Brev share a laugh, and then I speak. "I actually have the same question, Brev. In a lot of ways."
"You see," Brev says, "I've never been a particularly moral person, or claimed to be one. At one point I guess I just had this epiphany where I decided I'd stop trying, because my conscience wasn't giving me anything in return. I made a resolution to only care about myself and people I liked. They're the same way - that's why I teamed up with them. But when you came to my house and attacked me, I saw something I respected in you. You didn't care about morality either. Turning down the government's help just to get your revenge in person, and then going so far with it..."
"I do care about morality," I say. "I just don't think what I did was immoral. You wronged me, so I had the right to wrong you back. And fuck the police, they have no right to take that from me."
"You say you care about morality, but when was the last time you did something altruistic?"
I think back. "Well... now that you mention it... I... hm." I think of what I did to the clerk in the office of administration. That woman wasn't part of Brev's gang. She had done nothing. Was that really an okay thing to do? Hurting another innocent, just to get my revenge in person?
"Well," I continue, "if I were a completely depraved person, I would have given in to you to avoid getting myself hurt more. It was at least brave, what I did. I guess I consider that part of morality."
Brev grunts thoughtfully. "That's a different kind of morality. One I could maybe even get behind? Could it be possible? A morality that values courage and protecting one's dignity over making others happy and turning the other cheek? What would my conscience think of that?"
"You'll have to try it and find out," I say with a smile.
Brev looks back at his fallen wingmates. "We should help them get to the medical wing. It's not altruism, really, I just... still like them, even if I had to help you beat them to a pulp."
I laugh. "You say that like you'd be ashamed to be altruistic. Alright, let's help them."