After informing security of what had just happened, I headed back to Salim and Richard. Ulfric was still off for some reason, so I kind of ignored him. Salim was being supported by Richard. Neither one seemed happy about it.
“We…” Salim said, slurring his speech and gesticulating at Ulfric, “…we should do that thing where he isn’t around anymore…”
“Kill him?” Richard asked sardonically.
“Yes…” Salim said. “He’s not doing… going…”
“Doing Anything?” I asked. “Not at the moment, but I don’t want to find out if he’ll snap out of it if you start stabbing him.”
The radio crackled. “You blokes still out there?” Sergeant Burra asked.
“Yeah,” I said, “and creepy girl’s gone away.”
“I actually got word,” Burra said, “that was one of our students. She’s psychic, and when she can’t sleep, things get a bit weird. Just a few extra blankets, and she’s right as rain. Wake Mr. Giggles up, then continue with the patrol. One more lap should do it, over.”
“So, we got the shit scared out of us because some mutie got cold?” Guess who said that? If you guessed that Richard was the one who used the racial slur, you’d be right! “God,” he complained, “now I can’t feel my fucking toes!”
“Welcome to your first real winter,” I said. I had been smart and tried to shove my hands in my pockets or up the opposite sleeve as much as possible.
Ulfric then looked up and shook his head. “You ok?” I asked him. He shrugged, then began walking.
“I guess he’s ok,” I said. Ulfric nodded and grunted in confirmation. “Ok,” I said, “let’s finish this up. I personally want to go back to sleep.”
Trudging through the snow, a horrible thought occurred to me. “Do you think that they’ll have us all do an exercise of some kind out in the snow?”
“Are you kidding?” Richard asked. “How many people have they killed? If they keep this up, they’ll only have a few people left. I doubt anyone’d kill their only source of income.”
“Maybe it isn’t about money,” Salim said. “It could be about prestige. They might like to brag about training a better soldier than any other group. Besides, they’ll want some sort of grand finale.” He was still slurring, but he was a little better.
“Maybe,” I said, “but if that’s the case, then why are we only having a minor amount of discipline training? I mean, we’re really good at killing stuff, but we’re kind of shit soldiers at the moment. I mean, remember the Chamber of Horrors, Salim? We blatantly disobeyed orders, but we weren’t really punished all that much for it.” I paused. Then I added, “I do agree with Salim that they’re saving something for the grand finale. They keep trying to go bigger each time they do one of these events, and I can’t see them letting our finals be forgettable.”
“Hell Semester Awards are in two weeks,” Richard said quietly.
The rest of the patrol was done in silence. I reflected on what was going on. A psychic of some power was definitely here for one thing. That would interest UNIX. In more immediate news, I now kind of doubted that Salim and/or Richard would kill me anytime soon. We may hate each other, but we at least either realized we’d need to have a working relationship to survive, or we kind of respected each other.
Ulfric… Ulfric I wasn’t sure about. Then again, there was only one person who knows how Ulfric’s mind works and he’s too busy giggling and fucking with people’s heads to give a straight answer. I wanted to ask him what was up with him being frozen like that, but a) he might not be able to tell me due to psychic bullshit and how nuts he was, b) he was a violent maniac, and c) I wasn’t exactly sure he would tell the truth.
Maybe it was that I didn’t have a clear grasp of his motivation. If he just wanted to have fun cracking rib cages open with his bare hands, there were cheaper ways to do that. Hell, there were ways you can do that and end up getting paid. Maybe it was just that I knew that at any moment he could decide that he was bored and my screams would be the most interesting. Or maybe I was just paranoid.
Either way, I was glad when we finally got to the front gate. The people guarding it had made fun of us every single time we passed by, so Salim, Richard, and I made sure to be as smug as possible as we passed. One of them made an odd gesture which was probably rude, another made a few threatening steps towards us, but stopped when Ulfric almost skipped towards him.
He turned around, and said, “You unlucky! I no longer grant you honor of being beaten by me!”
“Whatever you say, asshole,” I said as I kept on walking. I hadn’t meant to say it (at least, not as loud as I did,) but it was cold, Salim was heavy and I just wanted to go to fucking sleep. Also, my hands were starting to stick to the flashlight. I just wanted to be done with this shit.
“What you say?”
I considered saying nothing, considered apologizing. While my conscious train of thought was doing this, my voice said, “Didn’t you hear me Susan? I told you to go back to playing with your Barbie dolls.”
The guy ran straight at me. I slammed the butt of my flashlight into the side of his head, putting all my frustration and anxiety into the blow. I also used every trick ten years of Tae Kwon-do had taught me, including taking a step back and striking through his head instead of at it. Later, I would learn that the flashlight I was given was designed as much for hitting people in the exact way I hit him as it was for providing illumination. From the steel pommel on the end of it to the textured grip, the manufacturers had worked to make it downright deadly. I would also learn later that he had died a few days later from his brain swelling up. All I knew at the time was that I felt a vibration run up my arm as I hit the guy and he crumpled to the ground.
“We done here?” I asked. No one responded, so we headed back in to the camp. When I got back to my bunk and began stripping down to my underwear so the snow wouldn’t melt and get my bed wet and stowing my gear, I noticed that my flashlight’s butt was wet and sticky. I shrugged. I could deal with it in the morning. Right now, I was going to sleep.
When we got up at the usual time, I had completely forgotten about it. I was just glad that the snow had stopped for the moment. I struggled to put on clean clothes, due to how tired I was. Surprisingly, I was the first person in formation. The run started out normally enough, or so I thought. We got some new equipment in the form of a backpack filled with various stuff, but that was about it. John and I were in the back as usual and Cross and Eric’s crew were heading off and trying to be in first.
I used the first half of the time basically just chatting with John. It was somewhat leisurely. I had told him about the whole Seven Supreme thing and had made the mistake of mentioning that I might want to withhold some of the stuff about them.
“Sure you don’t want to tell them?” John asked for the hundredth time.
“John,” I said, “two of the groups involved are searching for something based on what’s pretty much a fairy tale. Everyone else honestly seems to be out of our employer’s purview, honestly. If I, uh we, edit things a bit for our employer, we get a less risky source of information.”
“And if they find out?”
“Worst they can do is refuse to pay us,” I said confidently. “And if they ask me directly, I’ll tell them.”
“Yeah…” John said. After a pause, he said, “You’re going rogue, aren’t you? Or native, or whatever it’s called. You’re getting too into this.”
“Seriously,” I asked, “how much info do you think you’re going to collect just watching and waiting?”
John shrugged. “Ok, you got me there. But you seem like you’re crossing a line, man.”
“Ok,” I said, “I’ll be careful.”
“That being said,” John added firmly, “I won’t tell anyone about this Seven Supreme stuff unless I think you’re going nuts with it.”
“Thanks, man,” I said.
“I don’t know what I mean by going nuts,” he continued, “but I’ll know it when I see it.”
We continued on the path for silence for a while. When we got onto the main campus, we started talking about our family. John’s parents were (as far as he knew) back home in New Jersey. Mine were back in Massachusetts. Neither of our families knew what we were doing or had heard from us since we touched down.
We were just heading out of the gates when I noticed it. “Yeah,” I was saying, “my dad never wanted me joining the joining the army. He’d rather…”
“What is it?” John asked. We had just exited the gates.
“All the drill sergeants were just standing by the gate.” I said.
“They could be taking a break,” John said. He didn’t sound convinced.
“All of them?” I asked.
“You know,” John said, sounding more nervous, “I kind of wish you’d just say, ‘you’re probably right, John.’” From behind us, the gate rattled closed. We also noticed that Campus Security had set up sniper and machine gun emplacements on the wall behind us. “Guess we’re not going back!” John said. “Fuck me, right?”
“Pretty much,” I said. “Probably should be thinking ahead, though. Try and anticipate what exactly they’ve got planned.”
“Obviously some kind of Lord of the Flies shit,” John said. “I mean, that’s the only thing that could work…”
“Kinda doubt it.” I said, “Remember, the goal isn’t to kill us all.”
“Honestly,” John said, “if they lock us out, what else are we going to do? At least killing ourselves will keep us warm.”
I began to consider the possibilities as we got back to camp. As I had suspected, the doors leading into the camp were closed there as well. Unlike the main campus, there was no place on the walls to put guards. Instead, they were almost double the height, smooth, and topped with barbed wire. People were milling about the obsidian barrier in confusion.
At first, I wondered why there were so few of them. Then, I realized with a start that it was because most of the rest of us were dead. I had even killed one of them. Then I remembered how the guy from last night hadn’t gotten up after I hit him with the flashlight.
Before that train of thought could go too far into Grimmsville, Professor Blunt’s voice came over a loudspeaker to derail it. “Good morning, maggots!” he said, “Today is your acid test! If you, as a class, can survive the night and take under thirty percent casualties, you get to go home early!” I cheered at this, along with several other people. Before the cheering could get underway, however, Professor Blunt’s voice came over the speaker again. “However, twinkletoes, if you screw up, you get to do this again and again until you do it right. Do you understand?”
After the resounding, “YES, SIR!” had died down, Professor Blunt signed off. Silence reigned. I waited on the outskirts, observing the few people behind us walking to the crowd. As time went on, I noticed that people were starting to regard each other warily.
I was conflicted. I didn’t want to be the one to take charge. Salim and Richard (and maybe any friends of the guy I hit last night) would automatically oppose it, for one thing. Plus, I only had vague ideas of what we were facing and how to combat it. However, if no one stepped in, that would be much worse.
I was still debating this when Bai stepped up. “Listen!” she said, “I have heard reports from the drill sergeants that today’s storm will be worse than any of the previous ones! We all have camping supplies, so we should pool them and set up by the range where it is warmest!”
That was a good plan. I wanted to second it, but I was afraid that doing so would undermine it. Also, if anyone should have been leader at that point, I would have said Bai. She was about the only person that a majority of people would listen to.
“So,” Salim asked, “who is going to determine how the supplies are pooled?”
Bai froze. I silently begged her to say something like, I will, because I’m the person who beat Ulfric in hand to hand combat, bitches!
Thankfully, Eliza said something pretty similar. “Why not Bai?” she asked. “She’s brilliant at thinking stuff like this through. She’s also one of the most trustworthy people I know.”
Salim shrugged. “I just don’t know…” he said.
“Oh come on,” I said. A little over four hundred eyes turned to face me. I continued, trying not to get stage fright. “I mean, you know her plan is decent. Remember last night? The shooting range wasn’t as cold because we were near the kitchen and there were two walls shielding us from the worst of the wind. She might have other ideas.” Besides, I added silently, hoping he got it, you know that they’re planning something big.
“Do you think she has any ideas about what they’re going to do?” Richard asked. “You know, for this special final test? I mean, the way you were talking about this last night, you guys seemed to think they’d do something a lot bigger than just kicking us outside.”
“The Great White Moron seems to be right for once,” Eric said. “Our teachers seem to like to make us suffer in much more creative ways.”
Everyone turned to Bai expectantly. We waited a good thirty seconds. Then Eliza elbowed her. Bai jumped, then started improvising. “Oh, yes! The plan. After we set up camp…” she said, “…we can set up several forward positions at key points and distribute radios to them and to me. Most should be in the forest near the bend, because that’s where the attack will most likely come from.” She then paused. “We should get set up. After that, if you’re a leader of some sort, Eliza will come get you.”
After she was done, Eliza shouted, “All right, you ‘eard ‘er ya cunts! Get your arses in gear!”
Everyone instantly got moving. Except for Bai, that is. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her just standing in the middle of a mass of moving people, obviously wondering what the fuck had just happened. I shrugged. Better her than me.