"Brev," I say as the five of us are gathered after class the next day. "You told me a lot about you yesterday, so now it's my turn."
"I have a problem. I've always wanted to go into a career that uses my combat abilities, but I don't wanna fight for the government. They just interfere with everything without asking and their one redeeming trait of providing legit help to everyone is moot because I couldn't get their help when I needed it, because they would've taken the satisfaction for themselves. They only provide services to people who aren't like me. Like us, I guess now. I will not work for them. And I will not give up my career as a warrior."
"Well," Sally says, "what else would you do for a living with those abilities?"
"I'd be a mercenary," I say, without hesitation. "I know, mercenaries are portrayed as bad in our culture, but they aren't necessarily when you think about it. What's wrong with selling my combat abilities to those who need them? As long as I don't accept jobs to do bad stuff with my powers, but that's not an inherent part of being a mercenary. If I had my swords outside of class I could even punish people for asking me. It's a totally legitimate way to get paid for providing real value to people. But the government won't let me. You know what I say? I say we do it anyway."
"And what about when the police come to arrest you for vigilantism?" Stef asks.
"Kick their asses," I say with a smile.
"Okay, putting aside the impracticality of that, what about the fact that no one would employ your services because the government will do the same thing for free?"
My fists clench. "The government isn't free. Everyone pays for it in taxes. We'd have to declare that people who employ our services don't have to pay taxes or follow the laws of the government. We'd be essentially starting our own country."
There's no question of moving to another country because there aren't any. The government we know 'owns' the entire globe.
"That's absurd," Brev says. "I like it, but it's absurd."
"We won't be alone. The instructor told me about a news story yesterday: two soldiers went rogue, killed their comrades and disappeared. It sounds like their kids might be in on it too. If we can get their attention somehow and get in contact with them, I think we might be able to team up with them."
"You know," Brev says, "maybe that's not so absurd. If we had nine of us... And maybe more down the road... who knows?"
I smile. I knew I could count on Brev. "My thoughts exactly. Our first step has to be to get our weapons outside of class. There are two possible plans I can think of: either break in to the training room when the instructor's not here and take them, or make off with them during class."
"We can't just make off with them during class!" Logan says. "The instructor will kill us!"
"I'm sure the five of us could take her down," I say. "But okay, we'll break in and steal them quietly. Maybe I can... use my technician knowledge to open the door somehow."
The boy that helped me get to the medical wing shows up. "Hey, you! You owe me!"
I look behind me. "Oh, hi. I guess I did agree to pay you... but why should I?"
"Excuse me? We had a deal! And I trusted you!"
"Well you know what? I shouldn't have had to. I had the right to my revenge and you would've taken it from me if I didn't agree to pay you. So you can actually fuck off. It's not like you can report me for it."
The boy's mouth opens. "Damn you! Whatever, it wasn't that much money. What are you doing hanging out with them now anyway?"
"They became my friends after I got revenge. Basically, we realized we weren't as different as we thought. Someone like you wouldn't understand."
"Whatever. You disgust me." The boy leaves.
In the evening, I open my companion and buy the electronics parts I'll need to make a device that can open the lock. I wait outside, next to the turboline port the delivery droid will be getting off at, so I can take the package without my family seeing it.
I take the parts into my room and close the door. I finish putting it together late at night, after everyone else is asleep, and after testing its ability on my own house door, I call Brev and the others over the chatroom we made. "I've got the device ready. You all with me?"
"Now?!?" The wingmates all say. "We're not ready for this!"
"They have a point," Brev says. "We don't have a plan yet."
"What do you mean 'a plan'?"
"We don't know what we're gonna do to get the rogue soldiers' attention."
"I don't know about you," I say, "but I just want to take those things home. Just to feel them in my hands outside of training."
"But the instructor will notice they're gone, and what if the police manage to trace it back to us? We'll probably be executed."
"We can sneak them back in before our next training session if we get cold feet, I guess." It's a weekend, so we'll have two days off.
"Well, okay..." Brev says. "I guess I'm in."
"No way," Logan says, "this is bullshit! Let's not let her pressure us into doing this!"
"Brev and I are doing it with or without you," I say. "You don't wanna get left out, do you?"
"Ugh, damn!" Logan says. "Fine... I guess I'll go..."
In a few minutes, we're all gathered at the turboline port, and we board one of the available cars. I place my hand on the panel and say, "The hub", and the car zooms off down the turboline.
"I can't believe we're doing this," Logan says. "We're so fucking crazy."
"It's gonna be fine. Just look forward to how you'll feel when you get to hold your Pygon blades out of training. They'll be yours now, even if only for a day or two."
"It's not gonna be fine. This is fucking stupid. We're gonna get caught."
I roll my eyes. "I'm just looking forward to seeing everyone's reaction when it does go fine and I'm the only one who wasn't scared."
Brev speaks up. "You don't have to pretend you're not even scared, you know. Anyone would be in this situation."
"But there's no reason to be afraid. Nothing bad is gonna happen, and I know it."
"You know," Brev says, "there's a difference between being brave and not being afraid. Actually, I'd argue it's not brave unless you're afraid."
That makes sense, which makes me feel really bad. "Okay, I changed my mind then. I'm scared."
Surprisingly, I don't have any trouble convincing myself that this is the truth and was before.
Sally says, "I'm only doing this because of how I'll feel if I'm the only one who doesn't and it works out."
"That's a good enough reason," I say. "As long as you're being brave."
We arrive at the hub and hop off our car. It's time.
"Oh my god," Stef says, "the anxiety. We're gonna get caught. We're gonna get caught. We're gonna get caught..." he keeps muttering it to himself, faster and faster.
I say, "I'm gonna have a good laugh at you guys's expense when this works out fine."
"You're deceiving yourself," Sally says. "We all know it. We're gonna die. This is so stupid."
We reach the door of our training room, and I press the button on my device, holding it next to the lock. It should be emitting a field that will power off the locking mechanism...
The door opens. Holy shit. It's happening.
We walk in, and I pick up and extend my collapsed Pygon blades.
It's real now. I'm a warrior. Not a soldier, a warrior. I can feel the power, the sense of accomplishment flowing through my veins as I relish the feeling of the blades in my hands. This is amazing. I can be the best cadet in the class, I can outplay bullies that outnumber me, I can convince them to join my cause, and I can steal weapons from the government. It's all because of my ambition. I'm headstrong and persistent, and that makes me powerful enough to do anything I put my mind to. This is the proof. Someday I will overthrow the government. I know I can.
I turn to my mates. "Told you it would be fine."
But as soon as I say that I hear footsteps outside the training room. Everyone freezes.
"Fuck," Brev whispers.
Okay, even I'm terrified now. I try to convince myself it's just a cleaning crew or something, but I know that's not possible.
The footsteps reach the door. Four people walk into the room: the instructor, two other soldiers, all armed, and... Ashley.
The next few seconds are chaotic, with all of Brev's wingmates screaming strings of curse words and the opposition laughing maniacally. I'm silent as I gape in horror. I get goosebumps all over. This is far, far too bad to be true. I pinch myself to make sure it's not a dream.
How could I have been wrong? I was so sure it was safe! Everyone else spent the whole way here telling me this was going to happen and I didn't listen. Now we're probably all about to die. And it's all my fault.
Ashley is the last to stop laughing. "You got what was coming to you, Telra! You should have let me yield!"
"What the fuck!" I yell. "At least tell me how the fuck you got involved in this!"
"A government agent contacted me that day," Ashley says. "And I was given an opportunity. Since I wasn't doing so well in fighting class and didn't seem to enjoy it but I still wanted to work in law enforcement, they offered me to become a hacker instead. I work for their secret surveilance team now. Everything your companion records is uploaded to government servers immediately. And I helped used that data to identify you as a criminal."
"Fucking shit," are the words that come out of my mouth next. I'm so upset I can't even form a coherent sentence. Now that she says it I'm ashamed I didn't assume it. It seems so obvious now - why wouldn't they? I should have just turned off my companion while I was telling the others my plan! Even worse is the thought that of all the people who could have caught me, it had to be Ashley. This pathetic, weak girl is my killer. Couldn't win a two-on-one sparring match, couldn't even see it through, but she was good enough to take me out. Fuck it.
Ashley continues, "I thought you were bad for not letting me surrender. But then I saw what you did to that boy you bribed, and to the clerk. I heard everything you said to Brev. I know what kind of person you are. And you disgust me."
My fists clench around my blades. "You disgust me too, Ashley. Even if I did wrong you and the clerk that day, that's no excuse for what you've done. Getting me and my friends killed, serving the government. Do you really believe in what they do? Especially now that you know how much they spy on their citizens!"
"Well of course they do that! How else can they keep the peace? Personally, as long as they're not using my data against me, I don't care."
My fists clench even harder. This girl is a shitstorm of everything I abhor. I'm going to make sure that if we all die here, at least she goes too.
"Honestly," the instructor says, "she doesn't speak for all of us. I know the government is evil. They stick their nose where it doesn't belong, use absurdly disproportionate punishments, and they just resort to violence every time someone dares to say 'no'. But you know what? That's exactly why I serve them. Why fight the most powerful and ruthless organization in the world? If you work for them, you get a pretty safe and even fun life, and a good pay too."
I gape at her, almost speechless. "I can't decide which of you is worse..."
"I guess you'll die before you reach a decision. Enough talk. Let's kill them."
Alright. Maybe we still have a chance. Maybe my power will save me after all. I poise my blades. "Time to kick some ass."
Ashley escapes while the instructor and the other two soldiers attack. I throw out speed swings like crazy, even turning off my protection. It means taking a single hit will be instant death if I'm not fast enough to turn it back on reactively, but I need all my stamina for attacking if we're going to stand a chance. I can't afford to fight cautiously.
The instructor expertly blocks all of my swings. Meanwhile Stef takes a power hit from one of the other soldiers, and even through his protection it takes off his leg. Just like that. One second later, he dies from another hit.
With Brev distracting the third soldier, I manage to trade one for one with the intructor, and turn my protection back on just in time. The hit still draws a huge slash across my stomach, but it doesn't go too deep. I'm able to keep fighting.
But already Sally and Logan have been killed as well and Brev has taken bad wounds. Is that trade the only hit we've scored on any of the soldiers?
Alright, this is over. We're not even going to take a single enemy with us. But what about escaping? Now that the fight's gone on for a while, the soldiers aren't next to the door and they've probably forgotten about it. It's the only hope any of us have of living to fight another day.
I turn on my protection and run between the instructor and the soldier attacking Brev, putting up reinforced blocks on both sides. I still take another slash, and the pain is awful, but I make it through them and out the door.
"Telra wait!" Brev calls after me as the soldiers block him from following me. I left him behind. I can't believe myself. I got us all into an unwinnable situation and then left my one remaining friend behind to save myself. I thought I was brave? I thought I was at least dignified enough to accept the consequences of my own mistakes? Suddenly I hate myself almost as much as the government. Fuck it! But there's no time for hesitation. I have to tell myself I'll live to avenge Brev and the others someday. That's the only hope I have.
The instructor chases after me. I run faster than I ever have before despite how exhausted and wounded I am, and make it out the door of the academy building.
Here's the bridge where Brev and the others first ambushed me. No time to reflect on it. I vault over the railing and take the fall without further injury, then keep running. With any luck, I can turn a corner before the instructor sees me again...
But no luck. The instructor jumps off the bridge after me and continues to gain distance, rounding the corner just after me. I can't outrun her longer legs. And I can't win the fight. There's only one thing to try.
We're in a lowered area, with a wall before raised ground to the side. This is probably going to end in me falling and getting hurt. But I have nothing to lose. I fling my swords at the ground in power attacks and flip forward, hoping to launch myself up the wall.
It works. I land on my feet and dare to look back as I keep running.
The instructor's climbing the wall manually. She's too afraid to do what I did.
I smile through my pain, through my shock and through my shame. The instructor is a coward. And because of it, I'm going to get away. My wounds hurt like hell, but I'm going to live. I'll have a chance to make up for what I've done after all.
But suddenly a blade pierces my back, and I fall forward. What the fuck...?
I look back again. The instructor threw one of her blades. Probably used a speed swing and let go. That's an application she didn't teach us. Fuck...
So it's over after all. I can't get up. Even if the instructor disappeared now, I don't think I would survive these wounds. God they hurt so much...
But I'm going to do one last thing before I die. I look at my companion and press the speech command button. "Record a message: I've been murdered by the government for trying to sell my skills in a free market! Tell that to everyone!"
The instructor doesn't try to stop me from recording it. "It doesn't matter, Telra. Everyone you know thinks the government deserves obedience. Even if they didn't, they couldn't possibly succeed where you failed. Nor are they brave enough to try."
I clench my teeth. The instructor is right. It's all over. I failed my one chance. My whole life, I thought I was powerful. I thought my determination and talent would allow me to do anything I put my mind to. And things were looking so good when I made four like-minded friends and got my weapons and was about to meet four more. But I didn't do an ounce of damage to the government. I didn't even kill Ashley. Literally all I did was get other like-minded people killed. I really couldn't have failed harder. And leaving Brev behind just made it worse. Now I can't even die die proud that I took a stand. Fuck this... so much... I'm even crying.
But, there are other people in the distance. Other people holding Pygon blades and speeding toward us. They're not wearing the government uniforms. Could they be...?
The instructor doesn't notice them. She raises her remaining blade over me and swings it down.
I'm still holding my own blades. I manage to put up a reinforced block and deflect the hit, as weakened as I am. I have to hold on to life for as long as possible.
The strange warriors arrive, and the instructor finally takes notice of them. "Fuck," she says, and bolts away.
One of them throws their blade as the instructor had done, knocking her down. They catch up to her and kill her.
So it must be. The rogues saved me instead. That's embarrassing as hell, but it's better than dying. I start to pass out from pain and blood loss as I stop trying not to.
One of the rebels tosses his blades to another and picks me up. "Don't die on us, Telra."