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To Be The Last Standing: Academy Years

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 Chapter One: Announcement

[March 4th, 2520 – 1142 Hours]

There was a familiar heavy pounding behind me as my eyes looked out to the blurring world. The air was stale, making it hard to breathe. My arms and legs felt heavy. I just wanted to lie down and sleep, let the familiar pounding take me, and just let me rest. But my body didn't listen to my mind, so my legs kept moving. My breath kept coming out in ragged pants.

The pounding continued.

I don't know why the feeling of fear and anger and hopelessness were there, and so the feelings confused me. I didn't know where I was until my cloudy eyes started to see again as the welled up tears finally fell down my face.

The pounding continued.

What I looked out at made my body stop and the breath no longer enter my system. Chaos. The buildings around me were ruined. Marred and disfigured bodies lay, unmoving, on the pavement. Random fires were burning, some on the street, some on dead bodies, and some in the ruined buildings. I didn't notice-

"Autumn!"

I sat up with a terrified gasp.

Around me were the gleeful faces of my family, all showered, decorated, and pretty. I felt my terror turn into confusion. What were they doing in my room?

"Happy Birthday," They all cried together, smiling widely.

Oh.

Not sure how my voice would work, but not really caring, I gave them all a look and dramatically made a face. I stuffed my face back into my uber soft pillow. "No! I don't want to celebrate, I wanna sleeeep!" I made my voice sound cranky so that they knew I was joking with them and that I didn't mind. The thought was sweet, but I had gotten home late last night due to the idiocy of Jannie, my not-so-brilliant best friend. She had heard a rumor that someone had said they were going to beat up her little sister, and that had not been taken lightly.

So she had dragged me off to go find the starter of this so called rumor, and we'd stayed up late doing so, only to realize that it had been started by her sister so that she could get some free time.

Jannie had been pissed, yes, but I had calmed her down and by the time I left her house and came home, it had been very, very late. So now, after only getting a handful of hours of sleep, I felt no joy in being woken up for such an unimportant day. But then again, it was still a sweet thought. “And it’s only the thought that matters,” I thought, looking at what I guessed was a cake in my uncle’s arms.

My family let out a kind chuckle at my reaction, especially when my mother laid my brother down next to me and I had to sit up. My two year old brother tilted his head and I giggled, hands ghosting over his sides to get a reaction out of him. He giggled back, deciding to pick up a tangled piece of my dark red hair and tug to try and make me stop assaulting his sides with my skilled fingers.

"Na! Naaaa!! Nal-na!" He protested in his adorable voice, trying to say 'no'.

Feeling energy bubble up by Tyler's adorable laughter, I picked him up and set him on my lap, looking at my family's expectant gaze, knowing they had probably made me a big breakfast or something and were waiting for me to give the go ahead. Everyone looked so happy, and so I couldn't help but smile too, until I looked back down at Tyler and saw him fiddling with my pillowcase. “If he jars that too much…” I thought, thinking of the secret enrollment papers hidden in the fabric, ready to come out in a moments notice.

I stopped him from opening it, my smile faltered, I still had yet to tell my family about the program I was enrolled in, and the date was quickly approaching, so I didn't want them to find out from my brother just pulling a string. In a month I would be shipped off to Circinius IV... I wonder how they will react to that. Hopefully better than I expected them to.

I would be going with Jannie, of course, but that would still mean leaving. I guess now was the best time, seeing as they can't kill me while it was my birthday. “But,” I thought, starting to get out of bed as my family told me to follow them, “maybe after lunch.” I really didn't want to spoil my family's plans for me, and have it end up a disaster like Jannie's revealing did. Her parents, while not liking the Innies, didn't like the UNSC, either. They wanted their daughter to be an actress or a lawyer, someone who makes a bunch of money, not some 'buffed up monkey who kills people for no reason.' Jannie's relationship with her family had been rocky since, and while Jannie didn't care much for her family anymore, I knew that if something like that were to happen, it would crush me.

My mother circled around my bed and picked up my brother, who had crawled away from her. “Come on, now, I’m sure you’ll love your present.” She was giving me her puppy eyes and I remember once upon a time hating her childish then serious act, but now, I could help but savor the time spent with my family. Though, I couldn't help notice the absence of fire behind her soft eyes, and the slightly sad echo in her voice. I pushed the thought to the side, she was probably just tired. Tyler could be a handful when he wanted to be.

I nodded, making my dark hair bobbing along with me. “Alright, lead the way,” I told her with a smile.

I slid out of my bed, swaying a bit, but not letting that stop me as I walked myself over to my dresser, swiping a hair tie, and putting my waist long hair up in a bun. I followed my mother silently, making faces at my brother just to be with his comforting giggle. The more I thought of it, the crueler leaving sounded.

My father had been in the UNSC Medical Corp, so I only found it natural to take his death is a good way and use the medical genes he gave me to their full potential. I had no desire for a common-folk life anyway. But leaving my family that had already lost so much did make me feel like a horrible person, even if all I was doing was going away for a couple years, I would still be able to chat with them, and I could still send them things like letters and packages.

I sighed, feeling my face frown again as my mother led me into the kitchen, would leaving really be the right thing to do?

My mother’s soft voice beckoned me to sit down and put on the dark purple blindfold, so I did. I made sure I didn’t catch the eyes of my family, knowing they would be as naïve as to pass my attitude to being cranky and trying to hide it. “Okay, now, I want you to give me your hand.” I did so. My mother’s hand was clammy, as if she was nervous. A polar opposite to what her soothing voice gave off. She opened my hand and placed within my palm something cool and sleek – a pen?

My mother sniffed and cleared her throat. That action alone had my head whirring to try and find out why she could have been sniffing. My mind jumped to her finding out, but that didn't make sense, why talk about it now, when, if she had known, all she had to do was reject the paper. Maybe that's what this was about, she found out and was rejecting the papers.

“You can take the blindfold off, now.” I did so, gently placing the blindfold on the table after undoing the knot.

Looking down instantly at what had been placed in my hand, I tilted my head as I stared at the key in my hand. It was long and sleek, cool to the touch.

I looked up at my mother quizzically. I watched her suck in a deep breath and sit down. My eyes left her to gaze at the now somber gazes of my family, only for my aunt-by-law say in her rich voice, “We’ll leave you alone, I think it will be better for her if it was just you two.”

My mother met her eyes and nodded, “Yes, thank you.”

With another nod, my uncle, my aunt, my baby brother, and my grandma left, leaving me wondering what was going on. The look on my mother’s face was one so sad and helpless, that all I could do is look away, to terrified to speak. Had she found my papers?! My body was tense with worry. What else would make my mother look that way? Guilt riddled me, I should have told her. I could only imagine what her face looked like when she first found out.

I watched in the corner of my eye my mother wipe a stray tear from her cheek and let out a long, sad sigh. “Ivey, I have a lot of things to tell you.” She paused, waiting until I looked at her. Moving my eyes from the table, I looked into hers. “Today you are sixteen years old. At this age, I believe I should tell you about your father... about his legacy... about what he did.

“You were seven when he was KIA, what do you remember of him? I’ll fill in holes for you.” My mother’s seriousness over this topic hit me full force. When I came down those steps, what I expected to get was a loving breakfast, and instead I was getting questioned on what I knew of my dad, my real dad. It was like a punch in the gut, the air had left my body and I felt sick.

I swallowed a lump in my throat, hands mindlessly playing with my the metal key, silently wondering what it went to. I cleared my throat, but it did nothing. I never did like talking about dad, none of us did, so having to all of a sudden talk about him made me choked up.

I decided that the pause was long enough, and my mother was starting to look uncomfortable with the pause, so I spoke up. “Uh, I remember he had really, really, bright red hair,” I twirled my long red hair on the key as I spoke. “He had a nice laugh, and a good smile.” I wrinkled my nose, “he was never… home…

“Always busy coming up with new ways to fight the insurrectionists, new ways to heal 'the good guys.'”

My mother nodded, edging me to go on.

“Uh, I think he was… Well… I know he was a doctor of some sort, I don’t know what rank or whatever, though. I do know, though, that he was verygood at what he did…” I don’t know why, but the more I thought about my father, the more I thought about the way he had died. A memory of him smiling at me from across a computer screen burned my mind. Talk about bittersweet. “From what we were told, the insurrectionists... tortured him and the squad he was with before they could get to safety...

“Mom, is there a reason you are just talking about this with me now?” I finally snapped, my heavy heart didn’t want to talk about my father anymore. He had been a great man who had done great things. Thinking about how he had died made me angry, and made the possibility of joining the UNSC all the more appealing.

“I’m not stupid, Ivey- Autumn, I know you are going to go to that academy.” She paused, an obvious sour look on her face. I never knew why she hated the Corbulo Academy of Military Science; I thought it would be perfect, to be with people who also have had their families KIA. I felt that I would be better understood, better than if I would be going to some military camp where they let anyone join. My mother controlled herself, “I… If you wanted to go to one, you should have told me. I would have signed you up for an academy at Reach- they have the best scores! And they're always so easy to communicate with. At Corbulo, you’ll be so far away…” My mother sighed and hung her head.

“I don’t want to lose another loved one from this damn war, Ivey…” My mother’s rant died down to a quiet sob.

We both knew there was no stopping me, the papers had been signed, and my ticket to Corbulo paid for and finalized with what would have been my college money. My mother’s shaking body made me feel like a horrible person, I wished she wouldn’t think of it as such a negative thing. I set the key, now forgotten, on the table and enveloped my mother in a tight hug, not wanting to hear her soft sobs. I ran my hand through her grayish brown hair, wanting the motion to calm her down.

She had cried so much over my father. And now, after she has been married for only two years with a son and a new husband, I guess I had just killed what she had thought would be the new beginning of a semi-perfect life. "I'm such a horrible person..." I thought, my mother's tears bleeding through my dull T-Shirt.

For moments on end, I held her, stroking her hair and trying to calm her down my whispering that it would be okay, dad would look over me, and that I’d be sure to COM in whenever I could. This seemed to calm her down enough to just sniffles when she finally croaked out, “A-and th - hick - the key…" She cleared her throat and sniffed. "It was to your father’s military safe. I never opened it. I wanted that special moment to be yours.” She sniffed and left my embrace to smile at me, her brown eyes dazzling with tears.

My eyes widened in shock. My father’s military key? But his locker was stationed on Reach, where he had trained. My mother chuckled at my expression and I looked back at the key, snatching it up. On it, the numbers 736 engraved neatly into the silver. I put a hand over my mouth to stop a sob. My heart swelled with pride, I had my father's key.

I looked at my mother with glossy eyes, vowing to never lose the key. “Thank you!” I sputtered out, tears leaving my eyes for the first time today. “I promise I won’t ever lose it, and when I get the chance, to find out what’s in his locker, I'll tell you. Then I’ll brag about it,” I joked, making my mother and I laugh, both probably looking like a mess. I studied the key a little more, running my thumb over the cool metal, loving the feel. The power that came with the key overwhelmed me and I could feel my hands shaking with joy. There was no stopping the smile that came to my face. 

My mother and I then looked at each other after a moment of silence, composing ourselves. “Now,” she patted my back with a dandy and relieved sigh, “how about we go wake Jim, I had planned for us to be out of the house by noon to take you shopping and have you home in time for bed, but if we don’t leave soon, you might stay out later than planned.”

I rolled my eyes at my mother, typical mother. Just a little after having such a sentimental moment she was already back to rules and betimes, even though I was sixteen. Sometimes, I think the serious act runs in her veins, but that would be weird, seeing as I seemed to be more crazy than serious. But right now, the sudden mood swing didn't bother me as I stood up with her.

“Nah, you can wake Jim up, I am going to go take a quick shower and get dressed. And seeing as we don’t have time for the mall, apparently, how about you take me to the Shut Ins, I hear they are playing the best Flip Music of the 26th century tonight.” I leaned into my mom, hoping the physical contact would make her cave in to my idea.

The mall honestly wasn’t the best place to be on a Sunday afternoon. Especially seeing as the clothes usually sold from the store were more fashionable than I really liked, and instead I felt more comfortable with the cheaper, less flashy, brands found in a regular store, not that mom would tolerate that. She believed that with proper dress, came the proper respect and proper understanding of who you are. I believed actions stood out more than words and price tags.

Pretty much saying, that if her daughter dressed in boring clothes, it meant I was boring, something my mother would never stand for. To her it was an issue, so, while I wasn’t really the flashy type, I was the easy going type. So I didn’t protest much when it came to what I preferred and what not.

Though, there were some cases, like going to Corbulo, which I knew I wouldn’t stand down on. I was going, and that was the end of it. I had made myself aware long ago, that this was my life, and while following orders seemed to be natural, I was also a human, and so I had a right to have an open mind. But that didn't mean being mean to my mother and going against her every word.

My mother eyed me and sighed, “I guess, because it is your birthday. Alright, but be quick with your shower and dress nice.”

Mentally cheering, I leaned up to kiss her cheek and smiled at her. “Thank you!” I squeezed the key in my hand, finding that it gave me an extra jolt of energy and a buzzing happiness.

This was absolutely the best day of my life. And with my father's key in my hand, I ran to my room to get ready for the rest of the day, a smile marking my face, something that I think would be staying on my face for the rest of the day.