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the Other Law we live by

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There were 144 of us at the beginning - 72 males and 72 females. No one taught us the law; we learned by example. Any who showed weakness were punished. Any who disobeyed were killed.

During morning class on the fifth day, one scarred, rail-thin boy jumped another, knocking him to the floor. None of the guards interfered.

The aggressor hit the other boy in the face once, twice, again and again, until the one under him went limp, his blood splattered dark across skin, fists, and floor. Our instructor pushed through the crowd that had gathered to watch, pulling a baton from his belt. I'd already felt the sparking, electric-pain of its impact, when I asked one question too many. The boy looked up from his victim, terrified.

"Well done," the instructor intoned, running a hand through the boy's lank white hair before stepping away to offer him the baton. "Now finish it."

After he was done, they let him keep the baton.

Soon the males out-numbered the females, three to one. They thought we were weak, easy targets. The handful of girls I'd tried to befriend were lost, raped and murdered. Or, once the boys formed into packs, raped, then murdered, then raped some more.

I was sparring with Nebula, a cyber-girl whose implants gave her an edge over the rest of us, when the north door of the gymnasium opened. A pack of boys flooded in, bearing batons and knives. I sprinted for the south door. You didn't need to outrun a pack, just be faster than the other targets. I was always faster.

"It's a trap, you little idiot," she hissed as I reached the door.

She was right. I recognized Jerint's pack, one of the largest, and they hadn't all come in that north door. I pulled my hand away from the panel and backed towards Nebula, drawing my knife. She swung to face me, a pair of batons spinning in her hands.

"Not that much of an idiot," I told her. "You just worry about the ones in front of you; I'll watch your back."

The trap's jaws snapped shut on empty space as the south door flew open. "The green slut's mine," Jerint called out with a leer, ducking to enter the room.

"Come and get me," I said, feeling Nebula shift into a relaxed combat stance behind me.

Jerint and two of his boys lay dead on the gymnasium floor before his pack broke and ran.

After that the boys treated us as the threat we were. It was fight together or die alone, and I wanted to live. We learned to move silently, leaping from cover to pick off a straggler and drag them away into the shadows. We killed the packs off, one by one.

A pale girl with red hair disarmed my knife and nearly killed me with it before Nebula snapped her neck.

"I lost my weapon," I explained, panting.

Nebula watched avidly as the slices in my flesh began to heal before her eyes. "You lost a tool," she corrected absently, "you are a weapon."

Eventually, the final twelve survivors were presented to Thanos. We were the strongest, the fastest, the most intelligent, and the most deadly. He honored us, and adopted us as his own.

It's been many cycles since that day. I've forgotten the color of the sky on the planet where I was born. I've forgotten my father's voice, my mother's scent, my baby sister's name.

But I remember lying down with Nebula beside me, keeping watch. She had every reason to protect me; her self-interest demanded that she keep me alive. I remember relaxing into sleep to the quiet clicks and whirs of Nebula tinkering with her cybernetics. It’s the only time I can remember when I felt

almost

safe.