The last screams had faded into the night under firelight. During the night, bombs lit up the sky, booming and echoing with the sounds of clashing weapons.
But now, as the sun fights to rise, those on horseback flee the shambles. Overseeing the remains of a city, blood stains the streets where hooves had stampeded, dodging littered bodies and damage in the road. As they leave the debris behind, a figure stands at the highest peak, watching the plight flee to the horizon.
To that same sunrise, she stirs. At the sun’s first rays, her eyes open to her muted gray ceiling where light dabbles over. Sighing, she pushes off the creaking mattress, facing the window. Unlike the view of the sun after battle, this rise is without fight, given as it has always been given. This supposed grace brings a smile to her face before she rises to start her day.
She absently flicks on the TV as she passes to her closet. Her work uniform hangs haphazardly on a hanger, and she slips it off before setting it on her bed as she changes.
“ Rebel forces to the east raided the city of Radon late last night, in what turned to be a savage massacre of Royal forces and citizens alike. ”
She pauses in buttoning up her shirt at the news, staring at the blank face of the newscaster on screen.
“This is the third raid by the rebellion forces in the past week, second of which where there seemed to be little or no survivors. Today, delegates will meet in the_”
She reaches over and turns off the television again, leaving her to finish changing in silence. She crosses the room to her counter, shoving a piece of bread in the toaster. As she waits, she slips on her shoes, tying slower than usual in her thought. Her stomach still churns at the thought of the third raid that the rebels had initiated against the Royal Army.
What a bunch of cowards. She sharply finishes her shoelace and sits up straight. Can’t even bother to fight right. If they were certain of victory, then they should fight in the light.
Her toast pops, ending her rant to herself. She reaches across, eating the piece of bread while she searches the countertop.
Where’s my nametag…?
Oh. There it is; right behind her cup of writing utensils. She grabs it, seeing her name emboldened in all caps: PAIGE. She fits on her shirt, before casting a quick glance at her reflection. Then, she grabs her coat and keys before closing and locking the door to her apartment behind her.
The city is slowly starting into its morning swing, with shops opening to the sounds of talk shows and static laughter. As she passes the electronic store, she waves to the owner. He notices her, and gives a short wave before turning on one of the televisions, which begins a weather report concerning the chances of rain in the coming days.
The familiar background noise soothes her previous anger over the news report from earlier that morning. The rebellion would face justice for what they did. It's what their leader, Clu, had promised, and she knows him to be a man of his word. After all, he already done so much for her….even if he didn't know it. Someday, she would thank him. She just knows it.
The restaurant is a short walk from Paige’s apartment, and its small, nearly conforming design compared to the buildings on either side has made her forget its presence once or twice already. However, she remembers today as she swoops around the back alley to the employee entrance. She slips in the steel doors, and when it slams surely shut behind her, she slips off her jacket. As she hangs it on the hook, she notes that she has not been noticed...yet. Of course, she would know the instant she was spotted by the echoing bellow of her name. However, as she clocks in, she realizes that there are few in the kitchen as it is, and none of them have even glanced up to her. Slowly setting back her card, she grabs her apron and slips it on, searching each hunched figure and face scrunched in concentration.
“ There you are. ” The hiss in her ear and the sudden grip on her arm catches her off-guard, and she turns to the ruddy-faced woman merely inches away from her. Her grip is that of death, and Paige struggles to hold a steady gaze. “Why couldn’t have you shown up sooner?”
“I’m already early_”
“Have you not been listening to the news? Or anything ?”
“I’m sorry, what_”
“The general of the Royal army and his advisers are coming here in any minute now!” Her boss lets go of her arm and waves her off.
Paige merely stares at her in shock. “The Royal army? Here ?”
“Yes, where else? Now get moving!”
Paige nods quickly, rushing off the front of the building to make sure each spot is to perfection. After all, this could be her chance to show her thanks.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
It’s hours later when she sees the black car pull to a stop next to the curb, the shine reflecting from the sun. She looks up from where she was fluffing a pillow leaning against one of the booth seats to the window as the car door opens, and a man in uniform steps out, before opening the back door…
“Come on!” Her boss grabs her by the wrist and pulls her back into the kitchen. The swinging doors slow to a stop as her boss places Paige next to the counter.
“Don’t leave unless you’re doing your job, understand?”
The finger merely inches from poking her eye out causes her to nod. The hand withdraws with satisfaction, and her boss straightens, fixing her uniform before turning around. The doors powerfully swing open and closed behind her, with Paige watching. She pauses a moment more as the doors slow to a stop, before running to peek through the window slot at the scene.
The ornate doors of the entrance open and two soldiers lead the group in, eyes scanning for threats from the scene and from the older woman waiting for them. Paige can’t hear what her boss is saying, but after a long pause, the two soldiers give a curt nod before spreading out to opposite sides of the restaurant. Two others station themselves by the door, and Paige backs away as two more head towards the kitchen doors, but merely stop in front. Now, the two remaining men in uniform turn to her boss. She recognizes Tesler, from the ads and newsreels for her district, but who is the other man…?
The two follow her boss to their seats, and her boss turns back to see her, and the farce of a smile falls into a glower as she returns to the kitchen. The doors open and close and the older woman hisses: “ You will give them whatever they want. You understand me?”
Paige already knows that, but nods, still. Her boss gives a short nod before roughly forcing her out of the doors. Luckily, the soldiers by the kitchen are the only ones to spare her a second glance, as the two men at the table are already deeply engrossed in a conversation. She closes her eyes, reaching for her notepad and pen, exhales deeply, before opening her eyes and starting towards the table.
Waiting on the two officers is easier than she thought it would be. The two stop their conversation every time she approaches, merely giving her a glance straightforward answers before assuming she is done and forgets about her again. She is on the dessert round, now, and is clutching their orders in hand.
“Waiter.” One of the two_she’s too nervous to glance back quickly to see who_ calls. After a beat of pause, she turns, and the man she doesn’t recognize continues. “Will you also get us some tea? Mint.”
She nods, and tries to restrain her pace back to the kitchen. Inside, her boss is waiting for her with a tray of glass teacups and a kettle. The elder woman snatches the notepad, before passing her the tea tray.
“Don’t just stand there!” She turns back to see Paige still staring at her. “Go take that to them before it gets cold!”
Regaining her grip and composure, she nods before turning around and out again. By now, the soldiers have gotten accustomed to her presence, and barely glance to her and the tray. As she nears the table, she begins to finally pick up on the conversation.
“Now that’s the problem.” The man who had ordered the tea replies to Tesler, ignoring Paige as she sets a cup down next to him. “We don’t know have a single clue of who he actually is. The Renegade could be anyone.”
“Nothing?” Tesler grunts.
“Nothing. He almost appeared out of nowhere.” The man nods to her as she pours the hot drink into his cup. “And now he’s claiming he’s Tron, of all people. He wants ‘their land’ back ‘for the people’.”
“Well he’s not. Tron’s been sighted on the opposite side of the battlefield.”
“Exactly. If we can find out who he is and rid of him, the rebellion will crumble. Then,” He takes a sip, swallowing deeply before continuing. “We’ll win this war.”
“So how do we do that?”
“Informants. Get some through enemy lines.”
“Spies?” Paige finally pulls away, realizing she almost overfilled Tesler’s cup. “Not a good idea. The rebels raided one of the outposts, and made away with the list of every informant we have.”
“Then what_” Paige clenches the kettle tighter and backs away as the unnamed man suddenly stands_ “do you suggest we do?”
Tesler looks up to him, but after a long pause, looks away without an answer.
“I’ll do it.”
They both look up to her, and she suddenly realizes that the voice had been her . The unnamed man’s eyes narrow, before sauntering towards her. She straightens before he stops in her personal space, eyes searching every part of her expression.
“Leave us.” He says finally, gaze remaining on her, but when he snaps, the soldiers file into the kitchen. When the doors shut, he breaks gaze, and walks a small distance away.
“Who are you?”
She glances to Tesler, who merely watches her, before she returns to the man. “M-my name is Paige, sir. I work here.”
“In the kitchens?” The man scoffs. “Hardly qualified.”
“...May I be honest?”
A pause, then the man grunts with a nod.
“If the information has fallen into the Renegade’s hands, then they will know a spy in their midst the moment they set foot in the rebel camp.”
“Which we already covered.”
“Dyson..” Tesler grumbles, but neither stop her.
“It would be better to send in someone who is not on the queue of spies.”
“Of course, but why you?”
“I look like everyone else. I haven't been trained for the army or anything explicit for Clu’s service. I still look and act like a citizen. I could pose as a volunteer, and get what you want, and report back to you.”
The men exchange a glance. She waits, and Dyson turns back to her. He paces past her, and she follows him with her stare.
“But understand-!” He turns back to her, finger pointed. “In order to keep up the guise, you won't be receiving the regular training we give to spies. And if you're caught,” she manages to straighten even more as he nears. “Don't expect us to get you out of the mess. You will find yourself a dead man before you can even plea for your life. Understand?”
Paige pauses, glancing back to where her boss tries to peaks through the guards. She had been here for so long now…
But she can repay her thanks. She can serve her country and stop this war.
She turns back, and gives a tight nod. “Yes, sir. I understand the terms.”
Dyson gives a taut nod. “Go home and pack up. We will pick you up for briefing shortly after. You start now.”
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Leaving a home behind
She barely remembers nodding, before she realizes she’s at the doors. She pauses at the door, staring down in front of her.
She actually said all of that . And they were okay with it…
She has to quit her job.
The thought makes her pull her gaze up to stare straight, and with a determined frown, pushes through the doors. The guards part, and she freezes when she immediately sees the rest of the staff watching her near the back of the kitchen. Her breath catches, and her hand finds her opposite arm.
Around her, the soldiers exchange a glance over her head in the silence. Finally, the one closest to the door nods curtly before slipping out. The others follow within moments, until the remaining people are the restaurant's staff. For a long pause after the doors close, Paige averts her gaze to the ground, not saying a word. Finally, she sighs.
“I...I quit.” She says, looking up to the staff, and most importantly, her boss. “I don’t think I can say why, but it’s best that I go….”
She breaks off as her boss starts towards her. Before she can register any ideas of running away, the woman’s rough arms pull her close. Her face ends up in her boss’s shoulder in the midst of a bone-crushing embrace. The moment passes quickly and her boss pushes her back by the shoulders.
“I don’t know what you’re doing, or what those officers said to you,” She starts, keeping her gaze level into Paige’s. “But I want you to make this country proud, and make us proud for your service….So go.”
Her boss nods, withdrawing her grip. Paige watches her step back, before untying the apron’s knot. She folds it over her arm, and her boss holds out her hand. Paige closes the distance between them, draping the cloth over her hand. Then, she reaches for her nametag, unpinning it gently. Her fingers grip the sides of the plastic nametag, before setting it in her former boss’s hand, who nods at the action. She sighs, nodding more to herself than to anyone else, before passing the small group towards the back door.
She stops, turning back to her former boss, who is watching her with a careful, and for once, gentle gaze.
A ghost of a smile flickers on her face, and she nods. “I will.” And with that, she opens the door, starting off down the busy street, not looking back.
The dark car pulls up in front of her apartment around the late afternoon. She can see it from her window, which she views from her bare mattress. It’s strange that they knew where she lived. She didn’t even tell them….
The knock at her door is sharp, and it causes her to return to her bag, where she stuffs the final shirt before zipping the bag shut. She gives the apartment a once-over, hoping that she would not find something of surprising value in the usually empty room. She never had much anyway.
The second knock echoes, and she remembers to cross quickly to the door, before pulling the door open. The soldier’s expression doesn’t change at the sight of her, but he nods. “Ready, ma’am?”
She nods mutely, gripping her bag tight. He turns back towards the stairs. She steals one glance back at the room before closing the door and following the soldier down.
Outside, no one spares her or the soldier a second glance in the quick cross to the curb. He reaches the door first, and opens it. She glances into the dark interior, before turning to the apartment. In all it’s broken down glory. It had been an act of desperation a year ago, when she had moved here with little she had. Now, she leaves with the little she has, all zipped up in a bag….
But things are different now. She finally turns back to the soldier, nods, and steps into the dark car. The door then closes and when the soldier slips in the front, the car pulls away from the curb. She steals one last glance back at the apartment before they turn around the corner.
Things are different now. She affirms this as she faces back forward. New opportunities lay ahead, and just wait until they are in grasp.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
The mission begins.
Even with the idea of her going into the field with much less training than what is standard, months passed by with a crawl. Everyday passed with training under the General Dyson, and any of the teachers, who seemed to have no clue as of why she was being taught things beyond the experience of a ‘newbie’. A divide passes between the teachers, other informants, and herself. Outside of lessons, glares were thrown to her and words were curt. Yet still, the general pulled her along, causing her to break gaze with them, and act as if she heard nothing. She was almost to the end...then she could prove herself to them.
Now, the night before she finds herself staring up at the dark ceiling. Her skin feels warm underneath the bandage she pushes against gently. The sun design, so presumably ordinary, is inked into her skin, and her identification can be reached by reveal, should she come across another officer on the field. It's miniscule, but when she withdraws her touch, it's as if there is a weight pressing down on her collarbone. To reassure herself there is not actually anything pressing against her chest, she takes a deep breath, allowing herself to give a long exhale as she relaxes her shoulders.
There have been many times in the past months where she wondered if she would ever wake from this dream. Yet every time she opened her eyes, she was still grounded in this reality. Now, even more like a fantasy, she would begin her mission. To take her mind off the pressure of a new reality the next day, she replays Dyson’s debriefing in her head.
“The Renegade appeared after the Royal Army had begun to assimilate the city of Argon into the country. In his first sighting, he placed bombs within the statue of Clu, and as it blew up, he announced himself as Tron, the traitor we thought was dead. He has begun to win over the support of the civilians with his destructive activities. This terrorist has created his ‘army’, which now takes to reaching to Royal outposts and conducting raids, and even brought Tron out of hiding these past few months.
Your mission: you are to present yourself as a volunteer who had heard about the army through underground workings. Grow influence, grow close to the Renegade, and get him to reveal himself to you. When you know the Renegade’s real identity, you will report to me. We will take over from there. Until that time, you will be on your own. Understand?”
She nods at her own thoughts, propping her arms behind her head.
“What happens after that?”
He shoots her a small smirk, as close as she will probably ever get from him, and returns to his notes. “ Glory. You’ll be regarded as a national hero.”
The thought makes her smile as she turns onto her side. She manages a yawn and is finally able to close her eyes, forgetting only temporarily about the rest of the debrief, or she otherwise not rest as easy.
“ However, if you fail, do not expect mercy from the rebels. The Renegade’s ruthless; we have already lost many men to him. He has trained his soldiers to expect and give no mercy. Should you be discovered before you complete your mission, do not expect to see the next sunrise in one piece, let alone any type of glory.”
The next morning seems to be there too quickly and within a few hours, she sits with her back to the steel wall. She turns to steal a glance outward, but can’t see a thing over than the stark white of the snowy ground. Unsatisfied with her glance, she still turns back to stare at the floor, clutching her bag close.
“This is as far as we can take you.” She looks up to see Dyson now standing in front of her, and sure enough, she can feel the ship lowering. She stands after the landing, where she and Dyson watch the door open.
She glances to him, before averting again and nodding. He merely gives a stiff nod, before passing something small into her hand. She peers at it, before realizing she’s supposed to loop it around her ear. He nods when her arm returns to her side.
“You know what to do, now.” She starts at the sudden hand on her shoulder. She turns to see Dyson is watching her carefully, expression guarded. “Make your country proud.”
She bows her head. “Yes sir, I will.”
“Good. You have a trek ahead of you. You’ll want to leave now if you want to get to Argon before noon, which will be ideal.”
She nods again, and as he withdraws himself, she steps down the exit. The wind instantly greets her rudely as it whips around her, pulling at her hair. She forces herself to step outside of the field of danger near the ship, before turning back to watch it as it rises. She can no longer see Dyson, but nonetheless but it feels as if his gaze penetrates through the steel and into her, like always.
When the ship disappears into the sky, she sighs, turns, and begins the long trek towards the city within the wilderness, beyond enemy lines.
Luckily, the wind did not hold for long into her journey. It settles to an almost non-existent breeze as her footsteps crunch in the snow. By the time the sun begins to peek out of the clouds, she pauses to rest her legs, which have begun to ache. She plops down with a sigh, letting her bag slide off to the ground. Argon wasn't this far, or so she had thought, at least. Already, this mission was harder than she originally thought…
The breeze brushes against her face, and out of habit, she pushes back her hair and looks up. She pauses, for up ahead, buildings seems to rise from the frozen land and dot the horizon.
The sight is now a breath of resolve and she slings her bag back over her shoulder. Snow is kicked up as she all but sprints from her resting place. Almost there!
She slows as the city nears, and she can see the outposts. She can hear yelling and watches the movement across the railing. Finally, a figure stops, and she can see the shape of the rifle pointing down at her.
She obeys, keeping her eyes on the gunman as she calls: “Don’t shoot!”
“What are you doing here?” The gun stays trained on her, finger on the trigger, but considering she isn’t crumpled on the ground, she figures they’re willing to listen. “Who are you?”
She hears clattering of the iron ladder and slowly raises her hands. “I’m a volunteer! I want to join the army; I can help!”
The figure says nothing as two guards reach her. One keeps a weapon aimed on her, while the other nears.
She glances to the held-out hand, before slipping her arm out of the strap. She grabs it, and barely sets it on the ground before the guard kneels and unzips the pouch. He digs through clothes and food, a frown etching on his face as he searches. He gives it one more look-through, before zipping it up. When he stands, he holds it out to her, and after a beat of hesitance, she takes it back. He turns to the figure in the post. “Nothing.”
They pause for a moment, before replying: “You said you want to volunteer?”
They glance over her once more, before relaxing and lowering the gun. “Alright. Those two will escort you in for the next training classification. Don’t wander off, understand me ?”
Crap, that wasn’t apart of the plan! Her gaze lowers to the two guards watching her, before returning to the figure with a nod.
“You may pass.”
The guards nod and join on either side of her, guns at ease, but nearby. “Let’s go.”
She doesn’t argue, doesn’t fight at all. This’ll have to work; they’ll know something’s up if I protest.
Instead, she starts, keeping pace with the guards, past the gazes that follow her from above, and into the city.
It’s...not what she expected, to say the least. When Dyson had explained that the city had rebelled, she thought it meant that had turned into a strange military state...but the first people they had passed were a family, swinging a young girl along. The father glances up to the guard, but simply nods as the two groups pass each other. She turns to watch the family a while longer, and hears the young girl laugh wildly at something the mother said.
Her gaze returns forward, and her nose catches the scent wafting from the nearby bakery. As they pass it, she can peer through the window to see the two figures at the counter, not even minding the patrol outside as the person behind the counter sets a cake in front of them. A group of kids run out in front of them, but pass in moments, and the teens sitting at the stairs stop their conversation to watch them pass.
That’s when Paige averts her gaze to firmly face forward. I’m not a prisoner. I’m fine…everything will be fine.
Finally, they seem to reach their destination: a large brick-faced building with few windows. One of the guards reaches forwards, and pulls it open. She glances to them both, before entering the large room. The walls are plain, floors a simple tile, with a ceiling that seems to reach into eternity. All over the room, people, most seemingly close to her own age, lounge or stand in different scattered places, talking and laughing. However, when the door closes behind the escort with a loud BANG , the conversations die in moments as heads turn to the source of the sound. Paige wishes to hide inside her coat at all the stares burning into her, many laced with suspicion at the sight of a stranger.
Of course this wouldn’t be easy after all.
(I know I'm usually faster than this with updates on challenges like this, but I've been very busy. Tomorrow I have a competition, but I got a chapter up tonight so I wouldn't fall farther behind schedule!)
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
Beginnings are always hard. Especially when there are complications to the mission that Paige doesn't expect from the people of Argon.
The guards, perhaps sensing the tension with as much intensity as she is, are out the door before she can even turn to them again. It shuts loudly again, and in the following silence, she finds herself alone against the throng of stares, feeling them pick apart and scrutinize every part of her. She manages to release the death grip on her bag to push back her hood before habitually fixing the hair covering the left side of her face. When a girl with shock blue hair near the front of the group narrows her eyes, though, she drops her hand.
“Uh...hey.” She gives a short wave. “Is this where I go to volunteer?”
Silence. After a pause, gazes begin to turn and the group disperses, until two people merely stare her down. The girl who has yet to look away narrows her gaze more than Paige thought possible, until the latter finally averts her gaze as she mutters: “Right.”
She feels the gaze between her shoulderblades, but ignores it as she nears the corner, setting her bag between that and the window, and she relaxes when the gaze finally relents. She doesn’t dare sit, not here, nor does she look back. Rather, she casts her gaze to the window.
At the corner of the view through the window pane, a jeep rumbles in park next to the curb. Three rebel soldiers sit in the back, seemingly holding an enjoyable conversation. The driver, it seems, is standing on the sidewalk. Unlike the dark of the rebels’ uniform, he wears a crisp white, and a dark scars cuts across his face and melds into the neck of the suit. His buzzed hair and intense gaze complete the look of the intimidating soldier, but only one of the two people he’s speaking with seems daunted. The older man seems to bend at a slight cower, holding a notepad close and a reverent gaze upward. Meanwhile, the youngest of the three meets the soldier’s gaze evenly, with a smirk playing on his lips that makes him almost match the others in uniform that sit in the jeep. His features are sharp at a profile, like the soldier’s. However, he alters from the other two’s fading or buzzed hair with the messy mop of brown of his own.
The frown on the soldier deepens, and so the smirk fades into a more solemn expression, and he seems to age as he nods. The soldier places a hand on the boy’s shoulder before speaking softly. It’s a pause before the boy nods, but when he does, the soldier repeats the action before withdrawing himself and climbing into the jeep. The two share one last look, one containing goodbyes and hidden meanings before they break and the soldier drives off. It’s only when the jeep passes the window does Paige realize she’s seen that face before. Not personally, but in the videos in her history classes in her younger age, when Gallium had still been home , and he had been a hero.
“So Tron really is here…”
“You didn’t know that?”
She turns to the voice to see the blue haired girl leaning against the wall a short distance behind Paige, and a man stand back with hesitance.
“No.” Paige finally manages. “I only heard rumors…”
“They’re not rumors.” She pushes as she states what is now obvious, before closing in on Paige. “Where are you from?”
“Xenon?” Her eyebrows raise, but she doesn’t seem impressed.
“Yeah.” Then Paige dares. “There a problem with that?”
The girl says nothing, her gaze flicking up and down Paige, as if seeing her in a new light.
“Let’s be honest here.” She says finally. “You won’t make it.”
“What do you mean I won’t?” Her fist clenches at her side.
“You heard me. We’ve been working towards this moment since the revolution began, and the people in the capital...let’s just say you aren’t accustomed to physical work.”
“That’s not true!”
The door opens before the girl can say another word, and the argument ends abruptly as the room falls into a hush. The boy from the window adjusts the buttoned sleeve on his uniform as he enters, the man with the notepad in tow. When he finishes, he looks up to the room, and takes a deep breathing before speaking.
“I will take this time to congratulate you for volunteering to this cause. Freedom is an ideal that cannot be fought for alone, but with many who hold to that same belief…”
He breaks off as he glances to the corner, and he and Paige meet gaze. His brow furrows, and Paige steps back as he nears, until her shoulders hit both walls that make the corner.
“Who are you?”
“W-What?” She shrinks at his glare, causing his eyes to narrow.
“I said... who are you? I know I’ve never seen you before.”
“U-um...I…” What do I say? Dyson never told me what name to use!
“Well?” He crosses his arms.
“Paige!” She blurts, and inwardly chastises herself for using her real name.
“Paige.” He seems to barely accept it. “Got a last name?”
“Myers.” She catches up quickly, able to at least roll off a fake surname easily. “I came from Xenon as a volunteer.”
He says nothing to that, merely watching her with a similar look that the girl had earlier when she had mentioned Xenon, but tinged even just slightly differently….
“Very well.” He says finally, before turning to the girl. “Looks like you have yourself a roommate, Mara.”
“ What!? ” The soldier ignores her sputter as he has already turned his back and started towards the center again.
“For those who don’t know me, I am Beck Johnson. To those who do know me, I am no longer your co-worker, but your teacher and superior. For the next several months, you will be under my watch and training to go into the field, and do not think_” his gaze roves over all of them_ “that I will take it easy on you just because I know you.” He turns a piercing gaze away. “Any questions?”
“Yeah!” A guy near the back calls. “Why isn’t the Renegade teaching us? Isn’t he supposed to do that?”
Mutters and whispers spread through the crowd, and Paige frowns at the prospect. The Renegade is seen by all, but apparently met by almost none…
“That is not his job.” Johnson answers with a glare. “He has to plan every step you take in this war.”
When the guy quells, Johnson returns his full address to the crowd. “He will, however, be monitoring everyone’s progress closely. Should he feel that you are not meeting expectations_” He straight at Paige before looking away again_ “he will see that you set your sights outside of the army. Any other questions?”
When no one answers, he continues. “Right. Training starts tomorrow. Rest and be prepared, because I won’t be stopping for you.”
And with that, he exits again.
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
Mara and Paige have a rocky relationship, and day one of training is off to a bad start.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“That’s your bed over there.” Mara gestures to it before making a beeline to her bed on the opposite side of the room. “Stay on your side of the room, and I’ll stay on mine, got it?”
“...Yeah.” Mara has her back to Paige, so she sighs. “Got it.”
She turns to her bed (well, cot) , and sets her bag down next to it before kneeling. She unzips her bag, and pulls out a blanket that she drapes onto the cot. She glances back to see Mara now sits on the edge of her bed (an actual bed!) and is now watching her.
Mara raises an eyebrow in response, and shrugs. “Nothing. Nothing at all.”
“ Okay.” Paige spits the word before returning to her bag. She feels tension building in her shoulders as she roughly slams her shoes on the ground. Behind her, Mara sighs, and the bed springs creak.
A long, awkward, silence passes between them, Paige crouched over her bag and not glancing back. Finally, Mara stands, crossing two steps, and closes the bathroom door with a click after. Only then does Paige relax with a small sigh escaping her. After another second of silence, she pulls the earpiece off and closes her hand over it. With a furtive glance behind her to ensure that Mara wasn’t in the room, she unzips the front pocket before stuffing it in.
As she hears the shower turn on, she zips it up again before kicking off her shoes and climbing onto the cot, which creaks as she settles under the blanket. Her exhaustion from traveling wins out over the uncomfiness of the cot or the lack of a pillow as she crashes not long after she hears the shower turn off.
The door slams shut and she wakes with a start, shooting up on her cot. It takes a moment for her breathing to settle as she rapidly searches for any intruder or danger.
But there is none; rather, she is alone in the room. With a sigh, she collapses back, and her back reminds her of the stiff cot. She stares upward at the ceiling as she realizes she is still in the clothes from the day before. Oh well, she can rest for a little longer…..
When her stomach growls, reminding her that she hasn’t eaten since she entered Argon, she slowly sits up, before leaning over to dig in her bag. She pulls out one of the leftover bars from her journey, and unwraps it quickly. As she chews, she stares out the window where the streets begin to fill with people in sweats and shorts that are barely beating the rising sun to the outside world. The door to her building opens and a girl with blue hair meets the boy waiting for her at the doorstep. She links arms with him and they follow the throng of people down the street.
She jumps up, bar still in her mouth as she quickly strips and changes. She hops on one foot as she slips on her shoes, before throwing away the wrapper as she runs out the door.
People glance back as she slams open the door. She pauses to catch her breath, and the people that had paused to watch the scene she made slowly return to their own conversations and start walking again. She quickly follows, keeping an eye on those in front of her as they turn the corner off the pavement. She can see the beaten down path of grass that leads to the slowly growing group at the end, and follows it. She blends into the group easily enough, and none spare her a second glance. She merely lets herself be surrounded by the background noise….when it suddenly begins to disperse.
Her head shoots up to see the line forming and she runs to join, right in between Mara (who gives her a dirty look) and her guy friend. All sounds have ended as Johnson crosses the field to them in dark excercise wear, even though Paige figures he will be doing very little at all (if she could learn anything from her training sessions with the Royal Army).
“Alright!” He calls as he nears. “We will begin here every morning to run the mile to any of the places we will be training. For today, we will start the basics of combat. Should I hear even one complaint, another mile will be added to the end of the day, and no one will be allowed to leave until the last one is done. Understand?”
Silence. Johnson fixes them all with a piercing gaze before saying: “Your mile ends at the training center. Now let’s move.”
People begin to start off, and Johnson quickly takes the lead. Paige starts to take off, but finds herself faceplanting into the dirt. Mara’s jeering laugh is above her, and Paige spits out the dirt in her mouth. When she looks up, Mara has already taken off, and she sighs with a small growl. Between the blue haired roommate who acts like she’s the dirt and the ground, and the teacher with a seeming superiority complex, this isn’t going to be easy.
I've really got to start updating faster if I want to finish this by April 1st...
Anyway, I just want to note that Beck's going to be called Johnson for a while because Paige has barely met Beck and doesn't like him so they are on last name basis.
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
The week's summary of events
“Here.” The nurse sprays the disinfecting liquid into the cut and Paige winces as her hands sting. The nurse doesn’t respond to that, but insteads grabs the bandage and wraps it around her hand. “You are too clumsy for your own good, it seems.”
“Yeah,” Paige manages around a wince. “Seems so.”
She hadn’t expected Friday to be an endurance day. ‘Endurance’, or run to keep up with everyone so Johnson doesn’t yell at you...again. She hadn’t been looking at where she was going...what she fully realized next was that she had sprawled on the pavement, and Johnson was standing above. He hadn’t said a word at first, merely watching her before he knelt down and pulled her to her feet. He didn’t stick around long after taking her to the medic, but his eyes hadn’t left her the entire time. She had stolen a glance back once to see him watching her, gaze cold and calculating as the frown deepend.
“You’re good to go.” The nurse’s words bring her out of her spell, and with a nod, she slides off the table, holding back a wince at her protesting joints. The nurse says nothing to that, and instead turns their back to her as she ambles out.
It seems they finished without her; people go their separate ways in small groups. At least she doesn’t seem to be the only one affected, she notes as Zed (if she remembers right) pulls on his shoulder. Mara next to him stretches her arms over her head with almost a content grin, and Paige’s right eye follows them for a moment as she passes before she averts her gaze again. That’s a mess she’d rather not get into. Again.
“What is your problem?!”
It was Wednesday when she snapped at her roommate, who turns to her with a raised brow. Paige is too seething to care.
“You tried to drown me!”
“No.” She sounds sincere about that, but adds the next part with a bite. “You should know not to walk into the faster waters without experience, and to watch your surroundings. Besides, I’m the one that stopped you from drowning.”
“How do I know that?” Paige spits. “You’ve hated me ever since I got here! Why? What did I ever do to you?”
Mara simply blinks at her, saying nothing.
“Then it’s Johnson, with his high-and-mighty attitude like he’s God himself!”
“That’s not true!”
“Really? He’s closed off, always angry, rather watch and yell at you when you mess up instead of doing anything! In fact, he only compliments you! God, it would seem like the only one in the world he remotely cares about is you_”
“SHUT UP!” Mara snaps, and her yell echoes off the walls, striking Paige into silence. Mara’s breathing hard through her nostrils as she tries to regain control before manages in a shaking voice.
“You don’t know…. a thing about Beck. About me. About any of this ! All you are is selfish, arrogant, and lazy. I can’t wait until you’re gone.”
And with that, she storms out, the door slamming behind her.
Paige starts when she runs into the side of her building on the left side of the street. She stops in her footsteps, forcing herself to take a deep breath as she grips her wrist tight. When she exhales, she looks up to the paper near the door, where the schedule is. It seems Saturday and Sunday….are rest? Until the evening, at least.
So close, already?
She feels relief edging in as she takes the stairs up to her room. She softly closes it behind her, barely glancing to Mara’s bed before collapsing on her own. Too tired to do much more, she stares up at the ceiling with the argument, and the fact that Mara hasn’t returned to the apartment since then take a circular path in her thoughts, switching between the two. Perhaps she is being selfish, acting like this…..
No. She turns on her side. I’m doing this for something other than myself. Mara’s just doesn’t understand….none of them do…
She clenches her blanket in her fist tight before sighing as her thoughts taper off.
Please let next week be better.
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
The tension finally breaks during the test.
Week two isn’t any better.
Neither is week three.
And then week four is a straight downhill slope into hell.
Mara returned Monday, but from the moment she entered the room, neither could meet each other’s gaze. Not a word was said and not a thing done towards the other, as if they were still alone. Paige still steals glances at the other girl, when she’s busy, and her words ring in Paige’s head.
Maybe she is all those things. But it’s not like she’s the only with sins. She hears the whispers that follow the other girl, about where she has spent her nights. The others say that influence is what has given Johnson a high opinion of her, and is why she’s considered the best of them. Perhaps she doesn’t hear them; perhaps she does.
Johnson, however, remains unknowing to both the rumors and the tension between the two girls. That is, until Monday.
Paige watches from the corner of the crowd with crossed arms, her hands gripping tight. Her assessment match is next and her stomach churns at the thought of not only proving what she learned...but also to go against Mara.
It shouldn’t be too bad. After all, Johnson is keeping a close eye on both sides of the assessment, having laid the rules out clear. No hits above the shoulders or in places that could do actual harm to their opponent. He would watch each and every hit with the object being to keep your opponent down for three counts. So far, the fights have been near painless, but still...it’s Mara.
“Okay!” He pulls the victor of the fight to their feet, before reaching down and pulling the other to his feet. “Next round.”
This is it. Deep breath, shoulders back. She steps out of the crowd to the edge of the mat, and on the opposite end, Mara raises her head high. Johnson glances to the both of them as the crowd mutters, but still nods for them to meet near the middle. With another deep breath, Paige obeys, not even daring to look to her opponent.
“You two remember the rules?”
When he receives a nod from the two, he takes a step back. “Get into positions. Whenever you’re ready.”
The two girls finally meet gaze at his words, but in the silence to follow, neither move. Nobody says a word, simply waiting for the pin to drop; for someone to make the first move. Meanwhile, Paige stands there, the words circling in her mind.
Selfish. Arrogant. Lazy.
“You won’t make it.”
She thinks you’re weak. Stupid.
She finally lunges forward with a cry. I AM NONE OF THOSE THINGS!
Mara simply waits. Then, when the blow is close, she grabs the blow. With a jerk on Paige’s arm, the two are close enough that they are nearly nose-to-nose. Already, Paige is breathing through gritted teeth.
“I am none of those things you ever said about me!”
“You’re still on that?” Mara pushes her back. Without another word, she catches Paige in the stomach. However, it’s with a flat palm, not a fist, so the blow is light. Paige stumbles back still, but manages to gain her footing again.
“Is that the best you’ve got?” She calls.
“ Paige. ” Johnson’s voice is a warning that both ignore. Mara starts forward again without a word, gaze never leaving the other girl.
When she doesn’t respond, the spiteful laughter bubbles up in her and escapes freely. “And you call me lazy! You can’t even land a decent hit!”
Finally Mara swings from the right. Paige ducks, and stands after the swing goes by. “Who’s the weak one now_”
The blow to the left knocks her off her feet. She cries out at the explosion of pain in her head as she gracelessly lands on her side. She can barely grasp a breath of air when Mara is on top of her. She pulls on Paige’s shoulder, turning her for the second blow across the face. Again. And again. The blood is gushing down her face. In her mouth. Choking_
“ENOUGH!” The force finally relents. Paige blinks up to see Johnson with his arms around Mara’s waist, dragging her and her bloody fists away. “That is enough!”
Mara pulls out of the grip, and Zed starts forward to intercept her. However, she doesn’t move. She stands there, heaving for air, glaring at Paige and the blood. Finally, she catches her breath enough to hold her head high. “I win.”
She stalks off before Johnson can stop, and everyone watches her go before the doors slam behind her. As the tension ebbs away, someone pulls her to her feet.
“Take her to the medic.” Johnson commands, fixing her with a calculated gaze again. She can’t read it, and in moments, he can no longer look at her. “Everyone is dismissed.”
No one even tries to disobey. The man who helped her up is pulling Paige by the arm. Paige tries to glance back to Johnson, if one steal of a look would reveal what their teacher was thinking, but he’s already gone. All that’s left of the scene is the blood shining on the mat.
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
The threats have come true.
It’s the end of the week when she finally is allowed to leave the hospital. Given firm instructions to return should she start throwing up or having memory issues, she leaves alone as it is beginning to grow dark. Nobody stops to help her as she ambles past, but she feels many gazes following her.
Of course. She dimly remembers. All of them had seen the fight.
Saw me get my butt handed to me. She thinks bitterly. I should have tried harder. I have to try harder…
The voice makes her freeze, the rough, almost mechanical voice unfamiliar to her. She searches the oddly empty streets to see no one.
“Paige.” And yet the voice calls her again. And this time, she turns to see the figure approaching, and her breath escapes her in a small gasp. She doesn’t understand how she could have missed the figure in complete white among the dark, but here he approaches, and as he does, she can see the bold T resting on his chest. His gaze is shielded behind a dark helmet that covers his entire head, not giving a clue to his features. She feels her shoulders tensing, and she’s rooted to the spot only to watch him approach.
“R-renegade….” What’s he doing here? I thought he rarely showed himself, especially this personally…. “You know my name?”
His stance doesn’t change from where he had crossed his arms. “You forget that I’m keeping a close eye on the training, including yours.”
“Speaking of which, I’ve seen that your progress is lacking compared to the others in your class, and that you failed the assessment.”
She tenses at the word ‘failed’, and he tilts his head slightly in response. “Or am I wrong?”
She can’t meet the gaze that is now burning into her. Instead, she stares at the ground, at her worn sneakers with the laces coming undone. He doesn’t call her attention to him again, but after a long pause, he exhales slowly.
In an instant, her head snaps up to see him already turning his back. “Wait, what ?”
“You’ve failed your assessment and you are seriously behind everyone else. I’ve set a standard for a reason, and you’re not up to par. Pack up and go home, Paige. Fighting isn’t for you.”
Wait, no! Her mind careens into panic mode. What about the mission? I can’t fail!
“ No! ”
He stops. “ What?”
“I…” She takes a step back, hesitating. There’s no way she can do this.
But she has to try.
“Give me another chance.” She approaches the Renegade as he turns back. “I’ll prove it to you! I can do this!”
He says nothing, so she continues. “Look, I really need this. Give me time, and I’ll catch up with everyone else. I promise!”
“Fine.” The flint-like snap of the tone makes her stop, and give room between them again. “ Then do it. Should I be notified that you are still not progressing, you will not get a third try. You’ll be sent back to Xenon without any argument.”
She feels herself stiffen at that. Back to Xenon, where they wouldn’t even look at her again….
“Do you understand?”
“Yes.” She says it softly, before looking up to him with a facade of stone-like cold and a head held high. “I understand.”
He says nothing more, and before she can blink he has disappeared into the shadows again. Once she’s certain he’s gone, she lets out the breath she had been holding, letting herself slump and relax. She looks back to where he had disappeared, and then looks to the sky with a sigh.
I have a long way to go.
Chapter 11: Chapter 11
Time to start over
Her watch beeps somewhere and she groans as she reaches over the edge of the cot. She feels the cool floor with her hand, searching for it, and finally rises when she has yet to find it. With the still persistent beeping, she slips out into a crouch as she sticks her head underneath.
There it is. She grabs it and pushes the button to stop the alarm before stealing a glance to the other side of the room. It’s still empty from when she had fitfully fallen asleep the night before; Mara hasn’t been back yet again.
Oh well. She thinks with resign as she changes and pulls her hair back. It’s really not my business what she does.
She easily slips on her shoes on her way to the door. She quietly closes the door behind her as she exits to find the hallway still dark and empty as she travels down it. She doesn’t think she’s ever seen it this quiet….
She fights back a yawn, and instead shivers when she enters the cold, outside air.
I’m too tired for this. I can always do it later….
No. She shakes her head, and squeezes her eyes shut as she clenches her fist. I have to start this now, or I never will.
She doesn’t stand around any longer; she takes off with a light jog down the sidewalk. Her footsteps seem louder in the silence rather than the herd, and she finds solace in the repetition of her footfalls.
It isn’t long at all to reach the gym. She already decided the night before that she needs to start building up strength, and she won’t be exhausted before the day’s training. That would be a disaster, and perhaps get her kicked out right away.
She finds with a relief she hadn’t thought about that the door is unlocked, and she slips into the empty gym. She flicks on the lights, glances around once, and then bee-lines for the weights.
Where to start?
Perhaps the bench press would work.
She settles to that and pulls off two five-pound weights. She remembers that one must go on each side, to add equally onto the weight of the bar. Once she adjusts the weights to an adequate position, she slips in underneath the bar.
Shoulder width apart?
I think that was it.
She grips the bar in a near death grip, and with a grunt, shakily lifts the bar off the latch. She lets out a gust of air. Now to bring it down.
It takes more effort than she expects. Her muscles in her arm scream in protest, and she gasps when the bar leans into her chest. Her arms shake as she tries to push up but she can’t she can’t_!
Her breath escapes her in the smallest of gasps when two other hands grab the bar.
“You know it’s better to have someone watching, right?”
Paige’s gaze flicks up to Mara as the latter pulls the bar out of her grip and sets it down on the rack again. Only then does Paige relax, pulling her gaze away with a tired sigh.
“What are you doing here?” Mara’s question prompts an answer Paige doesn’t want to give. She sighs and sits, thinking hard about what to say….
“Look.” She says finally, proving her framing of thoughts with her hands. “I’m sorry I said all….that about you and Johnson. I shouldn’t have done that.”
“That’s not what_”
“I know.” Paige cuts her off. “Just...let me. Please.”
Mara goes quiet and with a sigh, Paige continues:
“...Like I said, I’m sorry. You don’t have to forgive me...but I think we could at least learn not to hate each other…” She pauses, but quickly pushes herself forward.
“I’ll tell you why. Why I’m here. Last night….I was confronted by the Renegade.”
The silence is broken and Mara sits down next to her before asking. “What for?”
“...What you would expect.” She finally meets Mara’s gaze. “He kicked me out.”
“...But you’re still here.”
“I argued with him.”
“You what ?”
“I know. He’s giving me one last chance to get up to expectations, or I have to go back to Xenon…” She rests her chin on her hands and her elbows on her knees. I can’t go back to Xenon…..
“You don’t want to go home? Don’t you miss Xenon?”
“Xenon isn’t my home.” Her fingers frame her face and she stares at her feet, the long forgotten pain returning with a pang. “I was forced to Xenon because of this...this war!”
She didn’t even remember being given a choice. She had known the Royal Army was going to give people the option the evacuate, but then things began to blur...and they didn’t give her that chance. Perhaps they meant well, but it’s still her home!
I want to go back to home! Back to Gallium.
“...Oh.” Mara’s voice is soft, and she’s staring at the floor, too. “I didn’t know that.”
“Whatever.” She feels the tears well and furiously wipes at her eyes. “I don’t even know why I’m telling you anymore.”
Mara says nothing, and instead watches her stand.
“I’m going to start heading over to the field. It’s probably time by now.”
It’s only when Paige reaches the door does Mara finally speak.
“I can help you, you know.”
She stops, and turns back with an automatic: “I don’t want your sympathy. If that’s why, then I’m fine by myself.”
“It’s not that.” Mara stands, meeting her at the door. I want to take you up on that offer of being friends, and that’s what friends do.”
Paige merely stares at her, wordless.
“Plush…” A blush begins to form as she bites the inside of her cheeks, before continuing. “I want to make it up to you for beating you up. Have for a few days now.”
Mara takes a deep breath. “So…?” She holds out her hand. “Friends?”
It’s a reluctance when taking her hand, but instantly the grip is firm.
“I’m glad we’re friends now.” She says with a grin that Paige doesn’t recall being there before. “I’ll help you, I promise.”
Paige says nothing to that, keeping the doubts to herself as Mara pushes open the door and pulls Paige out.
As soon as they reach the field, though, Mara lets go of her wrist and disappears into the crowd, leaving Paige behind.
Of course. She thinks, turning away. Mara probably doesn’t want the others to know we’re...friends. I wouldn’t blame her, honestly; she probably has a reputation to hold as the top of the ranks.
Maybe she only meant before and after_?
“Let’s go!” Johnson calls, and her head snaps up to see the group start off. Her crossed arms drop and she barely makes it as the back end of the group.
If I want to make it, I have to make it to at least the middle of the group. I have to…
“Hey!” The slight jolt snaps her out her thoughts to see Mara, a sheepish grin visible with a slight blush. “Sorry. I had to let Zed know I wouldn't be with him today. I’m here now!”
Her grin falters into an expression more serious as she says. “That’s what friends do. They help each other.”
Then the grin returns. “So that means I’m going to push you. So keep up with me!”
She starts jogging faster, and with a small cry, Paige lengthens her strides and pushes to follow her blue-haired friend .
Chapter 12: Chapter 12
Two new friends bond through new beginnings, gossip, and early morning exercises
Almost immediately, Mara begins to make changes.
“You’ll need to get up earlier to start off with.” Mara explains as they walk back to their room. “Roughly thirty minutes each morning is good, but it may not be enough. I’d say thirty minutes more. Oh, and we’ll set a schedule similar but not exactly like the one we are on now…”
Paige remembers simply smiling at the time, excited at the fact that this is actually happening I’m actually going to make it….
The next morning, though, is a pain. Mara wakes with a harsh flick of the lights, and she groans as she covers her face.
“Oh no you don’t!” Mara pulls the blanket back from Paige, who gasps at the cold and tries to reach for it. “Time to get up!”
Paige sighs as Mara saunters off to the bathroom, hissing as her muscles protest every moment she makes. Because they hadn’t done much in the morning, Mara had pushed her that night back in the weight room, not letting her leave until she could do three reps on her own on the bench press. Only then was Mara satisfied.
“Yeah you’re going to be sore.” Mara sticks her head out of the bathroom doorway, toothbrush in hand. “That just happens when you work that hard.”
Paige merely groans as she pulls on a shirt, and speaks after she pulls the shirt over her head. “How are you okay this early in the morning?”
She laughs. “I used to work early morning shifts all the time. I just started waking up this early all the time.”
“Morning shifts?” Paige looks up from where she is tying her shoe. “Where did you work?”
“I was a mechanic.” She sits down to slip on her own shoes. She laughs as she adds. “Technically still am. Most of the people in our group were under my employment but now I’ve got enough workers to where they can take the time off to train and take the weekend shifts.”
“Everyone?” Paige pauses. It would make a lot of sense; a lot of them were way ahead of her when it came to weight. If they had to lift equipment at their job, then they were accustomed to it.
“Like I said, most. I think you’re one of three who isn’t. Even Beck used to work there.”
“Really? Then shouldn’t he be at the same level as the rest of us?”
“No….” Mara can’t meet her gaze anymore as she shakes her head. “It’s a long story, but what from I put together, he joined one of the very first waves of the revolution, back when the Renegade was an unpopular figure in Argon.”
From what she put together….so he never told her?
“Do you think….do you think he could be the Renegade?”
Finally, Mara looks up to her, brow furrowing.
Then, she lets out a loud laugh that causes Paige to straighten and tense. She tries to cover it up, but it escapes her control and she continues.
“What? Was it something I said?”
Mara shakes her head, ridding her laughter with deep breaths. “Beck’s not a good planner. He’s impulsive, and I’m honestly surprised he’s planned things out this far.”
“Really?” Mara gestures for her to follow as she opens the door to the apartment. Paige flicks off the lights and Mara closes the door after they both pass through.
“Trust me. I’ve known him for years. He doesn’t think things through.”
Paige glances around, as if someone could hear them. “You sure you won’t get in trouble for…?” For saying that.
Mara shakes her head as she opens the door at the bottom. “I know you’re used to living in Xenon for a while now, but you can say whatever you want here. Besides, it’s true.”
They delegate to simply walk, instead of tearing off, and do so in silence, to take in the scenery.
Then finally Mara asks: “So...what were you before this?”
Paige smiles softly. “In Xenon, I was a waitress. It was a decent living, I guess; enough to pay rent. Before that…” her smile fades in thoughts Mara doesn’t understand. “...before that, I was in training for my medical degree.”
“Really?” Mara’s eyes shine. “You could still get it now if you wanted! Why go for this instead of that?”
There she goes; Paige turns her head away, showing the side of her face covered by her hair.
“I’m not qualified.” She says, and in a final tone.
“Oh.” Mara nods, knowing this conversation is over, and instead turns her attention to the doors of the gym. “Let’s get started, then.”
Chapter 13: Chapter 13
Some change is good...
In the weeks to come came the change of many things. Working from dawn to well after nightfall presses the two women. Mara goes from a leisurely jog to an actual challenge of keeping up with her partner as they travel from hanging onto the end, to the middle, and as of lately, to the front.
(Both girls had later stifled giggles late at night once as they recalled how earlier that day, Johnson had stopped and turned back to wait for the others, and his expression had shifted into a comical shock to see the both of them.)
Though Paige is still behind the mechanics on weight lifting, she is up to par and quickly grabbing onto the tail end of the stronger group.
And it wasn’t like people hadn’t noticed. All wide gazes turned to her when Johnson began paying compliments instead of critiques. And each time, Mara watched with a smug grin as her friend blew their doubts out of the water.
“I think we should go work on combat!” Mara says after flinging the door open with her bag over her shoulder.
She’s here then. Paige notes as she looks up from her book. Usually she’s there with Zed and they joke around on her side of the room while Paige sits off, but more often that she’s not present...especially on the weekend like this.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I mean you’re basically up to par on everything else, so why not? Besides, you will need it.”
She knows that. She knows she needs to work on it….
“Okay.” She says finally, slowly rising off her cot, “Let’s go then.”
The door opens and the smack, smack echoes throughout the gym. Paige glances down to her clock before glancing to Mara. Her friend seems just as confused as she is and whispers: “Who’s here this late at night?”
They both know for a fact everyone tends to stay a good distance away from the gym when training is done for the day. They have stayed past midnight multiple times and never came across anyone…
The person causing the noise doesn’t seem to have heard them, as the smacking continues on without a pause. The two girls exchange one more glance and Mara lets the door shut before the two sneak around the corner to figure out just who was in the gym at this time. At the sight, Mara relaxes, a small smile starting before making herself quite obvious.
The noise stops, and Paige slowly follows Mara out to see Johnson drop the stance he had been in next to the punching bag.
“What are you doing here?”
“Paige and I always train until late.”
“Really now?” He approaches, pulling the tape off his knuckles. “No wonder the two of you are improving so quickly.” He catches Paige’s gaze for a moment as he glances up, and she instantly looks away to fidget with the strap of her bag. He says nothing about it. “So what are you two working on tonight?”
Mara drapes an arm over Paige’s shoulder, and the latter starts. “I was going to help Paige improve on her combat. But...since you’re here, Beck, maybe you could help.”
Paige throws a worried glance that Mara that she ignores, so she instead steals a glance to Johnson, expecting sternness and a report to the Renegade that could earn her who-knows-what….
What she doesn’t expect, however, is when he smiles softly at Mara, and nods, “Sure. Let me gather my things real quick.”
“Great!” Mara seems to hold a mega-watt grin, and leads Paige away as she calls back. “See you in a minute!”
Once they are out of earshot, Paige turns to Mara with a hiss. “What are you doing?”
“Getting help. What does it look like?”
“Are you sure asking Johnson is a good idea….?”
“Paige, for god’s sake, just call him Beck. He’s not going to care. Also, I’m sure he won’t report you or anything. You’re in the clear.”
You don’t know that.
Mara lets go of her to throw her bag off to the side, before returning to where Paige drops her bag. Paige glances up to see Johnson drop his bag next to hers, and she straightens to stand.
“Okay, go ahead and get on the mat, you two. Show me beginning stances.”
Both girls nod and hurry to the mat. Mara sets up first, and Paige is quick to follow. Beck crosses between, first examining Mara deeply and in a long silence. Finally, he nods and she relaxes. He turns on his heel, and Paige tenses, which he picks out immediately.
“Don’t tense up, first of all. That’ll only slow you down or hurt you. Relax your shoulders.”
She nods, but she’s not extremely successful. He sighs, saying nothing more about that, and turns to the next problem.
“Is that your dominant foot?” He points to the foot closest to him, and she nods. “You’re backwards, then. Your dominant foot should be towards the back, so it holds the majority of your balance.”
She nods, and drops the stance to switch. He nods, and stands in front of her to reach down to the floor between her feet. “Now your feet need to be shoulder-width apart. Right now, your stance is too small.”
She moves out slightly until he stops her.
“There. Feel it?”
She nods, but he isn’t looking up to her, so she speaks. “Yes.”
“Okay, make sure you go for this feeling everytime you get into the stance. Now, stay on the balls of your feet.”
He stands, and views the rest of her. “Make sure you position your shoulders towards your opponent. So, for now, pretend I’m your opponent.”
She immediately turns her shoulders to him.
“Good, but it’s not going to work until_” she starts slightly when he pushes down on her shoulders. “_you relax your shoulders. You’re going to put yourself in a lot of pain if you hunch your shoulders.”
She feels her shoulders straighten out and though his push is firm, his voice is gentle. She steals a glance, but can’t look away as she realizes he’s watching her.
“I do have one question for you.”
She tenses. “Yes?”
“Your hair…” His brow furrows. “Why do you have it covering half your face? You can’t see out of that side and that’s a serious disadvantage.”
“I…” You can’t tell. They’ll kick you out, and you know it. They’ll find you imperfect….
He waits for her to speak, but she shakes her head. “Please don’t ask.”
“It would better to move it_”
“I know .” He breaks off. “Please...I’ll just to learn how to work around it.”
He says nothing, and yet she finds the courage to still look and examine his face.
He does seem tired...the underneath of his eyes are so dark .
What keeps him up like this?
Then, he looks over her shoulder to Mara and call: “What do you think?”
“Looks good!” He lets go of her shoulders at Mara’s response.
“Johnson.” He doesn’t respond. “Johnson!”
He stops and turns back, and she looks away.
“I...thank you. For helping me.”
“You’re welcome.” His response is warm, touching with a smile. “And call me Beck. Everyone else does.”
He nods, and turns to Mara. “I should probably get back. Mr. Newhall is probably looking for me by now.”
Oh...that must be the guy with the clipboard.
“Alright.” Mara shrugs. “I’m okay with you joining us whenever, by the way...that is if you and Paige are okay with that.”
“I am.” Both turn to Paige. “Are you?”
“Yes!” Mara runs to join them. “Then I’ll let you know later.”
“Alright.” He crosses to his bag and slings it over his shoulder. “I’ll see you two tomorrow.”
“Okay!” Mara calls and when the doors close behind him, she turns to Paige. “See? That wasn’t so bad.”
No...I guess that wasn’t.
Mara throws an arm around her shoulder. “Come on. Let’s get back to work, now that you’ve got the stance.” Paige’s eyes stray on the door for a moment longer after Mara starts off, before turning around to follow.
In the days to follow, she waits to be summoned, to be told by the Renegade to pack her bags and leave, that she didn’t make the cut. But the call never comes. By day three, she realizes that perhaps...perhaps Beck wasn’t all who she originally thought.
Chapter 14: Chapter 14
....However, not all change is good.
Though not everything changed for the better. After all, no story is perfect.
The whispers still followed Mara’s blue hair through the crowds she walked, where she wouldn’t glance back to give away that she knew what they were talking about. But so far, no one had spoken in anything more than a whisper. In fact, it didn’t seem Beck was aware of such things going on at all.
But then things become more than a whisper. Paige recalls the first she realized so...and to think it had seemed like nothing.
There was the sign taped to their door. Who knows what time it had been put up, but Mara was ahead of her on the staircase when she suddenly froze.
“Mara? You alright?”
She says nothing, before ripping the paper up and crumpling it up in her fist.
“I’m fine.” She says finally, before unlocking their door.
Any other instances are a blur. However, she notices that Mara has once again been showing up less outside of their workouts together.
And tonight, she’s late.
Paige sits on the bench where she can easily see the glass doorways. She already stretched, but she can’t start without her partner. It’s both unfair and dangerous to do so.
She glances down to her watch. Fifteen minutes late . That’s unusual for her…
Wait. She glances up at the flash of blue as the door swings open and shuts carelessly behind Mara, whose rapidly rubbing the sleeve of her jacket over her eyes.
“Mara?” She’s brushed off as Mara runs to the bathroom, and locks the door behind her. Paige stops in her tracks at the click , dropping her reached out hand.
Something’s wrong. Mara never brushes people off like that, and...had she been crying?
Who was it? Who hurt her?
How dare they?
If it was that Zed, I’ll make him pay! I never trusted him anyways…
The door opens again, and her head snaps up again. Speak of the devil.
“Is Mara here?” Zed asks as he practically runs to her.
“That’s not your business.” She finds herself asserting. “If you hurt her, I swear to god I will end you_”
“What? No!” Zed waves his hands in front of him as a sign of surrender. “No I would never do that to her! I just…” His expression falls. “They were bad tonight, and she ran off. I want to make sure she’s alright.”
“Who’s they?” Paige invades his personal space after he sits. “What happened?”
The door unlocks with a click, and both look to the door as it opens. Mara sniffles, still gripping the edge of her sleeve to wipe away any tears. She turns, and starts to find the two waiting for her.
“Are you alright?” Zed approaches her first, taking her hands in his. She doesn’t meet his gaze, instead looking dimly to the floor. Paige crouches, gaze still on her friend as she digs through her bag for the extra bottle of water. “Mara, please . I just want to know if you’re okay.”
There it is. She snatches it and stands, and Mara shakes her head. She closes her eyes, and still tears race down her face. Her two friends exchange a shocked glance, before Paige jerks her head towards the bench. Zed nods, and gently leads Mara to sit. Once she does, Paige and Zed sit on either side of her. They stay silent until her silent sobs fade away, and she’s left staring at the floor.
“Here.” Mara glances up to where Paige holds out the bottle. After a pause, she takes it and focuses on unscrewing the top. Nobody says a word as they wait for Mara’s say.
“I’m not a whore.”
Paige blinks at Mara’s final statement. “Okay? I know that.”
“But the whispers…” She shakes her head. “Everyone thinks I am.”
“Think about it, Paige!” She snaps, her voice trembling. “Since the beginning, Beck has given me top ranks, Beck’s always giving me compliments….”
She nods. “They think I’m sleeping with him for high marks. That he takes it easier on me because of...that.”
“What? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!” So that’s why they’ve been calling her those things. I never realized there was a story behind it…
“They think it’s possible.” Zed chimes in, glancing to Paige. “Since they’ve known each other for so long.”
“But...it’s not true.”
“I’ve known Beck for as long as I can remember. But we’re practically brother and sister; I could never think of him as a lover. That’s just…” She wrinkles her nose. “That’s just too weird!”
Paige nods as Mara continues. “But they think every time I’ve been gone that I’ve been with him.”
“But you’ve been with me.”
“And me.” Zed adds in, taking her hand. It doesn’t go unnoticed by Paige that Mara squeezes his hand.
“Mara.” Paige kneels down on the floor in front of her. “You can’t listen to them. The three of us know it’s not true...Beck knows it’s not true. In fact_” She rises_ “I’ll go tell him now!”
“Wait!” Mara grabs her wrist and pulls her back. “You can’t tell him!”
“Why not? He and the Renegade will take care of it!”
“In everyone else’s eyes, that will prove their point. I can’t let them win.”
Paige pauses, but is eventually brought back to her knees. “...What do you want to do then?”
She shrugs, then looks up to her friend. “Act like they aren’t there.”
“...I suppose.” She takes her friend’s hand, and squeezes her hand. “But if it gets worse, I’m taking care of this.”
Mara laughs, voice still wet and eyes teary. She squeezes her hand. “Thank you.”
“...For being my friend when I needed one.”
“For your sake...I hope things get better from here.”
Chapter 15: Chapter 15
Things take a sharp turn left.
WARNING: WOMEN ARE REFERRED TO AND CALLED SOME UNFLATTERING THINGS IN THIS CHAPTER. THERE IS ALSO A FIGHT.
However, it only gets worse.
Mara’s resolve is strong, and both Paige and Zed know that. Yet both watch, when they walk just slightly behind her, as her shoulders hunch and tense when someone calls out to her, or she hears the whispers in the crowd.
Zed and Paige fall into a reluctance of a friendship, where they planned a routine where someone would stay back and walk her back to the apartment, while the other would run ahead and make sure their pathway is clear of any signs or pictures of their dear friend.
“It’s not fair!” Paige hisses one night to him while Mara is in the shower. “She works hard and this is what she gets in return.”
“I know, Paige.”
“And nobody’s doing anything about it!”
“But is that enough?” She stops pacing and flops down on Mara’s bed.
Zed says nothing, and Paige sighs as she covers her eyes for a moment.
“How does Beck not say anything ?”
“Maybe he hasn’t noticed.”
“He’s had to ! They’re not being quiet about it.”
“You’d be surprised at how much he actually picks up.”
“Whatever.” She groans as she turns away. Neither say a word for a long moment, before Paige whispers. “This can’t go on.”
“ Ignore them. ” Mara hisses, almost on a schedule as this time, two men call out to her.
“Hey, you free tonight?” One’s voice echoes. “I’d like to see what Beck sees that’s worth giving bogus marks!”
“Screw off!” Paige stops only for a moment to call back. They laugh as she turns back, and when it fades the second says:
“So I have to know. Do you give yourself just to Beck, or is it the Renegade, too?”
“ I said screw off!” Mara grabs her wrist in a death grip before she can lunge. Paige glances back to see her shake her head.
“So you know what he looks like under his mask?” One of the two nears her, and Mara’s grip tightens. After an expectant pause, Mara shakes her head, keeping her gaze glued to the ground.
“No?” The man sounds...disappointed. “That’s a shame. You’d think he_”
Her grip goes slack when his nose cracks under a forward thrust by Paige’s fist. He falls on his butt, and stares up at her in shock as the blood spurts down his face. Then, he lunges at her with a roar, and though she tries to prepare, the blow to the left side of her head throws her off. She stumbles, but latches onto the first limb she finds, and grins when her intended target screams. She throws him to the ground, and swings down after she kneels.
However, he’s quicker. He grabs a chunk of her hair and pulls, causing her to scream. The grip releases when she blindly slams her fist down. This time, she doesn’t relent. He goes limp but she keeps hitting and hitting, all blows melding into one blur_
Two arms wrap around her waist and pull her up. “ENOUGH!”
SHe stumbles when the grip roughly pushes her away from the scene, and she realizes the screaming chaos that had crowded her ears fell into a hushed silence. She turns to see others staring at her with wide eyes and pale face. Some cover their mouths, but all stare.
The rough grip takes her by the wrist and pulls her out of the crowd and up the steps of a building. When the grip releases, she turns back as the door slams closed and the dark of Beck’s uniform is all she can see.
“What was that !?” He explodes in that moment, his voice echoing off the walls as he towers over her. She says nothing, and he doesn’t wait around anyways; he waves her off with a disgusted sound from deep in his throat. He rounds the desk with a deep sigh, before turning back to her and pointing to the chair.
“ Sit. ”
She doesn’t hesitate to obey, and sits down in the chair as he says: “Beating someone senseless is not acceptable!”
When she doesn’t speak or lift her head, he exhales deeply.
“I’m going to have to report you to the Renegade.” He sits down himself. “You could at least provide me with a statement to defend yourself with...I…” He sighs for the third time. “I shouldn’t have to tell you this_”
He starts when her fists slam on the desk.
“ YOU! You’ve done nothing to help Mara and I!”
“Do you realize that almost every night for two weeks now, Zed and I have had to make sure she isn’t alone or that nothing has left any notes calling her….calling her things! Or that she’s been crying every night because you haven’t said anything!”
“What are you talking about?” He finally edges a full sentence in.
She pauses to stop and stare at him. “You really don’t know?”
“Know what?” His anger is quickly shattering to shards of worry and fear. “What’s going on?”
“People…” Paige takes a shaky breath. “Because Mara has been doing so well, others have been saying that she’s been sleeping with you and the Renegade…”
Beck stares with wide eyes at a spot on his desk. “I...didn’t know that.”
Paige nods. “She had told me to wait for it to fade, and I waited for you to do something, but when neither of these two things happened, I took matters into my own hands.”
He finally sighs before nodding as he stands. “Very well. I’ll make sure to include that in the report.”
“What will that do?”
“Probably not much, but whatever punishment you get may be lighter…” He finally looks to her, pausing mid-word as his brow furrows. “...What happened to your eye?”
“My eye?” What’s wrong…?
Her hand travels to the left side of her face and her fingertips brush her cheek and lower eyelid. Gasping at the touch, she hurries to recover by covering the spot with her hair again.
“Can I go?” She can’t look to him, but instead to where her hand grips her arm.
He sighs, “You may go. Make sure to get….yourself looked at.”
She stands without responding, and hurries out of the office without another word.
Chapter 16: Chapter 16
Some things should be forgotten, and yet they return in the sleepless nights. (Paige is dealing with the memories of what happened to her eye).
WARNING: MENTIONS OF BLOOD/ SEMI-EXPLICIT DESCRIPTION
She knows Zed and Mara saw her eye. To go that long with the damage uncovered give all a clear view.
Yet they’ve said...nothing. They talk of trivial things, steering clear of anything to do with the fight that day. And she’s thankful for it.
For it won’t leave her mind. It always waits in the corner nowadays, making a grand entrance in her empty thoughts and once peaceful dreams. These nights remind her of the weeks when the nightmares were strong after relocating to Xenon, when she had been in the hospital. The therapy had supposedly helped...it had been close to a year since.
She usually wakes quietly, with either a gasp or not a sound at all. Tonight, in particular, she sees Mara rise from her bed slowly, and she holds her breath. She returns her gaze to the floor, covering her mouth with her hands as the memories play in her mind’s eye. All that blood... all that blood …it’s in her mouth and nose and coating her cheek….
She launches herself off the cot, barely clearing the bathroom door before she collapses in front of the toilet. The old taste that isn’t really there causes bile to rise, but nothing happens as she hunches over the seat, breaths wracking her form. Footsteps hit tile, and she starts at the cool hand against her back, but relaxes when it’s soothing.
“It’s okay, Paige. It was just a nightmare.”
She shakes her head as it bows. No, it was more than that. It had been real before . But Mara doesn’t know that, and she can’t bring herself to talk, so she leaves it at that.
The touch is calming, and her form slowly loses its shake. Gradually, her breath quiets.
She nods wordlessly, laying her head down on the cool porcelain. Her eye aches and burns, but she can’t find the courage to sleep again.
“I can’t sleep.” She finally mutters. SHe doesn’t think Mara heard her, until her friend is pulling her to her feet.
“Let’s go clear our heads, then.”
She’s just stretching when she hears the door swing open and slam shut. She doesn’t glance up although she’s torn from her contemplation; it could be anyone, and that’s the problem. From what it sounds, Mara has intercepted whoever it was, so she returns to stretching after a brief pause.
Stretching has always seemed to bring a peace of mind. As her muscles prepare to work, her mind wanders and eventually plops into blankness...but it didn’t seem to work this time.
She glances up to Beck, who stares down at her. Not without expression, but what she had expected was revulsion or at least dread at whatever he would have to say. Rather, it’s something she can’t quite understand; the name keeps escaping her.
“Mind if I join you?”
“I don’t see why not.” She folds her legs for a moment as he sits down across from her. After he settles, the silence draws on into awkwardness. With a frown, she pulls on her arm, and steals a glance to see Beck is staring at the floor where his hands rest.
“...Did you need something?”
He looks up at that, but still hesitates as he situates his right foot to rest against his left thigh. “Can I ask you a question?”
She stiffens and sits back up again to look to him. She nods slowly. “...I figured as much.”
“You don’t have to answer if you want_”
“No, it’s okay.” He blinks at her with wide eyes when she cuts him off. The smile on her face doesn’t feel like a smile, rather like a ghost whose memory haunts even the stranger. “I probably owe you an explanation.”
She inhales deeply, closing her eyes and gripping her crossed ankles to ground herself so she doesn’t disappear into the memories.
“I was born and raised in Gallium for most of my life. I had gotten to know most everyone in the city, and my friends and I would walk to school every morning. That was back before Clu was in charge and there was no revolution.
I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but when I was younger, I became dead set on becoming a doctor. I wanted to help other people, and make them feel better. So as soon as the study was offered, I started taking medical classes to work towards a job in the hospital.”
“How old were you at the time?”
“I was fourteen. It took a while to get through the basic courses before I was even allowed to intern at the local hospital, but around the time I turned seventeen, I was offered a start and permanent stay at the hospital. I accepted immediately, and by the time I was eighteen, I was allowed to work on small injuries or illnesses independently, had a few good friends and started the official course work to becoming a doctor. It felt like everything was coming into place like a dream.
Then the war started. Tensions quickly rose between soldiers and citizens, and my studies were put on hold when the riots started to break out. I was needed, and so I obeyed the call. Soldiers and rebels alike had been laid in the hospital, and as things escalated, the more the injuries kept me up at night. Not after that long, it was not just the bloody images, but the sounds of fighting and explosions that kept me on edge late into the night. I started working more; sleeping less. Perhaps that’s what got me into danger in the first place...a sleep addled brain that couldn’t make the right decisions. Or maybe the fact that my younger self was too naive to step away.
People had begun to evacuate the city, and both soldiers and rebels smuggled people out of the city to different destinations. Multiple came to the hospital, begging us to leave, but most of us refused; we couldn’t leave while innocents remained in the crossfire. It became habit to run out into the battle and pull people away to whatever safety we could find. Of course it was dangerous...but we had a need to meet.
One day had gotten really rough. It was...dusty and I was searching for people among the wreckage, trying to dodge weaponry. I spotted a soldier, for which side I couldn’t tell, but I could tell they were injured. I had crawled to them, and was checking for a pulse when…” She takes a shaky breath and shakes her head. “Everything was fuzzy...but I remember one point before I had passed out that I was bleeding heavily, and it got into my nose, my mouth….but then everything had gone dark.
The next time I woke up, I was in a hospital, confined to a hospital bed. It hurt to breathe, and my left side was dark. I didn’t even realize someone was standing nearby until they stood directly in front of me. I asked them where I was and had happened and…. and… ”
She finds herself at a loss for words, so with trembling hands, she pulls the hair out of her face. There wasn’t even a denial that her eye could have worked, not with the scarring that is cut into her face and overall lack of an eye. She tucks the hair back, before holding out her arm as it shakes to show the faint scarring.
“T-they told me there had been a bomb, and the shrapnel had exploded outward. I was one of the first people hit. It had gone off to my left, so it didn’t hit me in the chest, but…” She shakes her head. “I was taken out of Gallium, and transferred to Gallium, and they couldn’t save my eye. I….” I can’t stop stop stop….
Beck’s touch prompts her to snap her gaze up to his pained gaze, and he takes her hand.
“Why didn’t you tell anyone? We could have helped you sooner.”
“I didn’t know that.” She admits, sniffling as she fights back her previous tears. “I thought I would be kicked out because I didn’t make the cut. I was already barred from finishing my studies as a doctor, and I thought that would be the case here.”
He squeezes her hand. “I’m sorry.”
She blinks at him, brow furrowing but she didn’t say a word.
“Is that why you’re here?”
“Yes. I’m….I can’t sleep.”
He nods. “I understand that.”
Unsure where else to take the conversation, he lets go of her hand and stands. She takes the hand he soon holds out and follows to her feet.
“If you ever need to clear your head...I don’t have much to tell you, but I tend to be here later at night. You don’t have to say anything; we don’t have to talk. I just figured it would be better than being alone.”
She nods, then glances around to see Mara sitting on the bench a short distance away. Her gaze is distant, as if she had heard everything, and suddenly Paige can’t look to her.
“Paige.” He prompts her attention again, and they meet gaze. He holds the stare steadily, before saying: “Neither of us think less of you because of what you told us.”
“I know.” She responds automatically with a nod. “...Thank you for listening.” She feels...lighter. And sleepy.
Beck must have noticed, because he smiles softly.
“I’ll walk you two back.”
Chapter 17: Chapter 17
It comes back with a bite.
She soon takes Beck up on the opportunity, sneaking out of the apartment alone to find Beck at the gym, absorbed in his own distraction. Sometimes they would talk to another, sometimes they didn’t. Yet when they did, it was the type of idleness that taught growing friends information about each other.
Beck liked the trivial disc games they had in the park before the revolution. He been one of four friends that had been joined at the hip from the first moment they laid eyes on each other, as if they had been destined from the beginning of man’s knowledge.
There were only three of them left now. Zed, Mara, and Beck had lost Bohdi to a Royal Army soldier when they tried to force everyone out of the park. All it had taken one shot, and the group had gone from four to three in the blink of an eye.
Which is why he joined the fight. More lives could be saved from the unjust actions of an army forcing themselves in and over homes and freedoms.
It made sense now.
And Paige found other stories that didn’t have to do with war; like how her friends invented a game of watching the cars pass by on the way to school, or how her colleagues at the hospital told the greatest stories of things one couldn’t even believe were real.
And for a long time, Paige forgot she was a spy. That she was, in fact, apart of the Royal Army and had been sent on a mission.
That is, until Beck arrives after her one night, looking deader on his feet than usual. He says nothing to her, instead making a beeline to a bench, where he plops down and rests his head in his hands. Paige stops, hand mid-air from where she had been reaching across for a weight, and instead watches him.
“Beck?” She draws her hand close, and he looks up as she approaches. “Is something...wrong?”
He doesn’t answer for a long moment, allowing her enough time to sit down. Finally he sighs, and his form slumps.
“We got an interception that the forces out on the field had caught. From Clu’s Army.”
The Royal Army . She blinks. It could be anything…
“We have a spy in our midst.”
Her heart stops, but she manages to pass it off as a deep breath. “ Wow… ”
“They’ve been here for some time now. They didn’t state what the business of the spy was, or even their name or description. All they said is that they would know who it was by the tattoo of the sun on their shoulder.”
Her shoulder feels as if it burns in reminder of the mark, and she resists the urge to reach up to her shoulder. Instead, she keeps level gaze at the side of Beck’s head.
“Does that ring a bell to you at all?”
Paige shakes her head, feeling herself twinge as she lies. “No. I haven’t seen anyone with a sun tattoo.”
“Hm.” He finally looks up, and seems to find nothing wrong with her expression. “We’ll have to keep looking. And Paige?”
“You can’t tell anyone what I told you.” He hisses, for he has leaned close after glancing around. “Not even Mara. I can’t let this news risk being discovered by the spy. Got it?”
She swallows deeply, before nodding. “I understand.”
He nods as well, before standing. “I’m sorry, I need to go. Have a good night.”
She smiles as he walks off, but when he is out of sight, her smile fades as a heavy weight settles in her chest, one that she can’t find the words to express.
If only you knew.
Chapter 18: Chapter 18
Nothing ever stays the same, and nothing is ever simple.
The weight remains in her chest, constantly reminding her of her mission.
The Royal Army is expecting me to figure out the Renegade’s identity and report back to them so they can end this treason.
...But is it really?
Yes, it is still treason, but these people...they are not savages. They’ve given me so many extra chance here, and people still live regular, happy lives, despite the war.
Are they really that different from the Royal Army?
She almost wishes she hadn’t thought about it; it’s a seed planted that she tosses around in her head for almost a week now. In that time, it seems more and more vehicles have been driving in and out, and more soldiers rushing about in the dark rebel uniform. Beck has stopped showing even to the late night gym escapes, his form now only a shadow in the window of his office.
Are they really spending that much energy on trying to find me? The thought makes her skin crawl, and she shakes her head as she grips her arms. No, it couldn’t be.
Then, the day comes. A jeep jerks to a stop in front of Beck’s office, the soldier clambering out as fast as she can while clutching the letter in her hand tight. She barely waits at the door, before she’s let in. Paige, where she had stopped in her walk, tries to peer through the window from her distance, only to meet the white blinds.
Could it be another intercepted letter? Surely, the Royal Army knows that this is an issue.
Within the next hour, the announcement goes out for all the soldiers in Paige’s battalion to go to the meeting room.
She catches up with Zed and Mara, the two holding hands as they walk. Their relationship is becoming bolder , she realizes before returning to her original train of thought. “What do you think’s going on?”
Mara glances to her, and shrugs. “Don’t know. Hopefully it’s something good.”
No one is present except for the soldiers called, who begin to cross to each other, confusion lacing expressions and mutterings. The trio of friends stand off to the side, where the entrance is in clear view should Beck appear so they could at least grasp an idea of the message. The room fills to the brim, and still, Beck doesn’t enter through the doorway.
“Where is he?” Mara glances around at her mutters, frown beginning. “He’s never this late to something like this.”
All heads turn not to the front doors, but to the ones that lead deeper into the building as the doors slam open. Instantly, there are gasps and excited mutters, and Paige has to stand on the tips of her toes to see the Renegade’s white uniform and guarded face.
As he approaches the front, he holds up his hand and the crowd hushes at the simple gesture. When he’s satisfied with the silence, he drops his hand and folds his hands behind his back.
“You have been training extremely well under Beck; I have been watching your progress closely.” All eyes are glued to him as he turns his head to view each of them.
“But that time is over. From now on, you will answer to me . We have orders.” The boom of his voice sends the crowd back into silence.
“Pack your things. Tomorrow at dawn, we will be heading out to join our other forces to intercept Clu’s Army. We _” he points at the ground as if to emphasize himself_ “are ending this war!”
This gains a roar from the crowd, and with that the Renegade gives a stiff nod. He searches the crowd once more, and Paige swears that he looks directly at her before turning around before the doors shut behind him.
Apparently, it was everyone’s idea to go to the local club. It was one of Mara’s favorite places and she finally convinced Zed and Paige to come along. At the sight of the crowd, Mara grips their wrists tight before pulling them through the crowd on and surrounding the dance floor. If it wasn’t for the steel hold, Paige could swear that she would have been lost in the crowd.
“Can we sit down?” She yells over the crowd, hoping Mara heard, and is approved of such when her hair bobs in a nod. They break out of the crowd, and almost in an oddly collective fashion, take a deep breath.
“I’m thirsty.” Mara says after a pause. “Let’s go find a booth.”
Paige’s gaze searches the filled booths and tables, and her eye rests on the lone figure in a booth who seems to be staring the neck of his bottle.
“Why don’t we sit with Beck?” She points to him as Mara and Zed turn. Mara’s face brightens at the sight of her friend.
“Great idea! Let’s go.”
Again, she pulls them along, and Beck must have heard them, because he looks up from his drink.
“Long time no see.” Mara slides into the seat across from him, and as ed is still attached to her hand, he takes the spot next to her, leaving Paige to take a seat next to Beck. He smirks at her comment.
“No kidding. How are you three?”
“I’m great!” Mara replies as Zed waves down a waitress and orders drinks. “I’ can’t believe we got to see the Renegade! Beck, we’re working with him from now on!’
Beck chuckles at that, shaking his head. “I heard as much.”
“Do you think we’ll win?” Zed asks suddenly after a deep swig of his drink, bringing the whole table to a silence as they stare at him. Is that all he can think of? Paige wonders this, with torn minglings about facing the idea that one of them could not come out of this alive.
Beck doesn’t answer, but rather swigs his beer. Luckily, his silence doesn’t last long and overhead, a new song booms through the speakers, and Mara gasps.
“I love this song!” Mara calls, pushing against Zed. He scoots out, but he can’t get out of the way before she grabs his hand. “Come on!”
“Have fun!” Paige laughs as she waves after them.
Beck smiles after them for a short moment before returning to his drink. Paige glances back to see him staring at his beer before her smile fades.
After a moment, he shrugs. “I’ve got a lot on my mind.”
“Ah.” Probably so, with the news of both the movement of forces and my hidden status as a spy…
“You won’t be punished.” He says finally.
She blinks, turning back to him. “What?”
“Renegade ruled it as defense of honor for him, Mara, and myself. He thanks you, by the way.”
“Oh.” Is that all?
Beck nods, and Paige sighs as she leans her arm against the table.
“You ready to move out tomorrow?”
He sighs, staring at his drink, as if considering drowning his self in the entire thing. “About that….I’m not coming with you.”
“What? You’re not?”
“My job here is done, and the Renegade doesn’t want me on the battlefield. He’s making me go to the next training camp, in Bismuth. I’ll have to leave before dawn to get there at the time I’ve been demanded for. “
“Oh.” She says again, pulling away from him and turning to her untouched drink. She runs her finger along the rim. Who will I meet with at the gym in the middle of the night now?
“Hey.” He sets a hand on her shoulder, and she looks to him finally, conscious of his warm touch.
“You’ve done well. You definitely surprised me with...with you . Maybe we’ll meet again.”
She gives a soft smile. “Maybe.” The thought of meeting Beck again, perhaps after leaving the train ride from the warfront back to Argon (back to home ) or on a street, running to meet each other with open arms…
“Can you let me out please?” She blinks at him when he brings her out of her thoughts. “I should get going.”
“Oh. Sure.” She slips out and he stands, flashing her a small, yet tired and sad, smile.
He smiles, truly smiles , and she feels her heart lift. “For everything.”
And like that, he disappears into the crowd, with Paige staring on after her.
Paige glances up to Zed and Mara, and she could see they had been watching, and that they now know.
Mara glances to where Beck had disappeared. When she looks back, she’s smirking. “You like him, don’t you?”
“What?” She stares down to her drink. “No!”
“Oh…” Mara is grinning full-on, barely containing her laughter. “Paige has a crush !”
“No I don’t!”
“On who?” Zed asks suddenly.
“On Beck!” Mara exclaims, as if it was common knowledge.
“Ohhhh.” He’s smiling, too, and her cheeks burn.
“Why does it matter?” She looks away, “I won’t get to see him again. After the war, I’ll probably be sent back to Xenon.”
Her friends exchange a look, before Mara says slowly. “...You realize the two of you are our best friends...right?”
She stares at them, merely blinking.
“If you find us, which you probably will, Beck will be with us.”
“I hadn’t thought about that.”
“Didn’t figure. But it’s okay! I’m sure he’d be happy to see you too!”
“I don’t want to scare him, though. What if I do that by surprising him? I won’t get to talk to him again!”
“The night’s not over!” Mara exclaims, waving her hands. “He’ll probably be at his office, so you could just go over and talk about it. But for now_” She takes a long gulp of her drink, before continuing_ “we’ll have fun!”
And that they did. Mara and Zed order a couple more drinks, and Paige takes it as her cue to leave.
“I think I’m going to go home. I want to be ready for tomorrow.”
“Have fun!” Mara calls, turning red in the face. “Don’t forget to talk to him!”
“I’ll keep it in mind.” She waves, before slipping through the thinning crowd and into the cold air outside. There, she relaxes and exhales before stuffing her hands in her pockets and wandering down the street. Perhaps I won’t go home yet, I’m not tired.
It’s when she passes the steps to Beck’s office that she remembers what Mara had said.
Just talk to him. She takes a deep breath, and stops in her wandering. It won’t be hard. Just start off with: ‘Hi, I know we already said goodbye, but I wanted to ask something..’
She realizes the door is already partially open, and she raises her fist to knock when she hears the voice sputtering.
“They’re not ready! You know that!”
She recalls the voice; it’s been a while since she’s heard Mr. Newhall’s whiny tone, and the sound makes her want to turn away, but she freezes when Beck argues back:
“They are ready! Besides, you heard Tron!”
Tron? He talks to Tron?
“Then you know this is out of necessity. He’s instinct is still good, in case you’ve forgotten.”
“There are other ways of building the army; send in others!”
“What others? They are the most qualified right now! But every move in this war is out of necessity! Do you not think I’m worried!?”
Beck rounds the desk, coming into view in a uniform of white, the T sitting pointedly on his chest.
Their conversation halts at the gasp, and Paige covers her mouth in horror, bolting into the alleyway. She presses herself against the wall as the door fully opens and Mr. Newhall sticks his nose out. She keeps frozen with her hand over her mouth, waiting.
“Nothing.” He finally says, before the door slams shut. Paige removes her hand and lets out her held breath. She peeks her head around the corner to see that the entryway is indeed empty. She stumbles out, taking the familiar path home with an unmethodical step to match her jumbled thoughts.
Chapter 19: Chapter 19
Dealing with the choices one must make when changing as a person
Beck...he’s the...he’s the Renegade. He’s not going to Bismuth; he’s leading troops into war!
She stops at that, and it sinks in.
He’s the one I’ve been looking for.
She takes off at the thought, sprinting down the street, nearly missing her apartment building. She storms up the stairs and slams the door behind her, chest heaving from the sprint. Turning, she locks the door before sliding to her bag, almost breaking off the zipper in her hurry. Her hand plunges into the bag, and only when she holds the comm in her hand does she hesitate.
It seemed so much easier to fantasize about reporting the Renegade’s identity when he was a nameless and faceless stranger. Not Beck the commanding officer, and certainly not Beck the man who, though he was strict, was just and kind, and had become a friend.
Could she really give him away this easily?
Stomach churning, she still hook on the comm and turns it on. There’s a pause, then lines turns staticy before Dyson’s voice hisses: “ Report.”
“I found him.” She finds herself whispering, wringing her hands over and over. “I know who he is.”
“ Well ?”
Her heart seizes suddenly, and she throws a cautionary glance back to the locked door. I can’t tell him...but I have to, but I can’t!
“I can’t explain now. But tomorrow we head out into the field. I will lead you to him.”
“ General Tesler is to corner the rebel army tomorrow. Make sure to be out of the line of fire, and help him corner the Renegade and give his identity. Then we will win this war.”
“ Yes sir.”
The line goes silent, and Paige finds her hands shaking as she pulls the comm off with a small exhale.
I just did that.
I can’t believe….
She tries to imagine anyone’s reaction to the possible events of tomorrow as she finally moves from the middle of the floor to drop the comm back in her bag and crawls up onto the cot, barely remembering to kick off her shoes. She turns on her side, wishing she was asleep to save herself from the thoughts, and pretending to be so when Zed and Mara clumsily pile onto her friend’s bed and crash instantly.
Chapter 20: Chapter 20
She’s still tired when they clear out in the morning. Everyone is issued a uniform, and she and Mara put them on in silence.
Now, Paige watches the sun rise over the horizon as they start out of the city. Dawn. Right on time .
She rubs her eye as she walks, before returning her grip to her bag. Her gaze pinpoints the white of the Renegade at the front of the group in the jeep that moves at a crawl. Not driving, but obvious (even from her distance) that he’s not comfortable. (Knowing Beck, Mr. Newhall probably forced him into it, and he would have happily walked). His masked face searches the skyline as well.
After a while of walking, the rigid form of the battalion relaxes to where friends wander to each other and talk instead of marching in silence. At one point, he glances back, but instead of yelling for order, he simply lets his form drop and turns back forward without a word.
“Hey.” Mara bumps into her and she stumbles. She seems only slightly more refreshed than Paige. “How’d you sleep?”
“Honestly?” She happily takes the excuse to look away from the Renegade. “Terrible.”
“Yeah.” Guess you could say that.
Mara grins, and bumps her shoulder. “Don’t worry about it! We shouldn’t have to actually use these.” She points to the guns on them, the ones that they were issued after weeks of training.
“Well that’s a relief.” She admits. The thought of having to use the gun had actually been on her list of worries, right under the chance of having to use it on her, or Zed, or Beck.
“Hey, relax!” Mara throws an arm around her shoulder. “Just think, each step is another step closer to the end of the road. Soon, we’ll be back in Argon, and closer to Beck again.”
The thought, though a lie, makes her smile softly. Returning to easier times...what a beautiful thought.
Mara points ahead. “If I’m right, we should be coming across Krypton soon! That might even be it; those lights on the horizon!”
She follows Mara’s finger, and gapes. The lights of the city are so...beautiful, rising from the sky to join like stars.
Mara’s grip slackens on her shoulder as she suddenly gasps. She turns as her expression morphs from delight to horror.
“Oh my god…”
“STOP!” Beck’s disguised voice cracks and people stumble to a stop to keep from running into the jeep in its jerky stop.
“Oh my god oh my god!”
Those aren’t city lights , Paige realizes as people begin to cry out, pointing to the skies.
Those are flames.
Chapter 21: Chapter 21
The city in flames
(WARNING: THE DESCRIPTIONS CAN BE CONSIDERED GRAPHIC OR GORY)
Beck’s instantly out of the jeep and runs to the edge of the dip into the valley that is the city. Paige sees him reach for his knife, and turns back to call. “Stay in groups and be on guard!”
There is little hesitation for the others to follow the Renegade into the valley, and Paige holds onto Mara’s wrist as they stumble down.
“I don’t know. He may have found a group.” Paige hisses, grimacing as her feet step on the blood soaked cobblestones. She forces herself to look to the bodies lying limp, searching for signs of life….
Paige turns to where the door had creaked to see it ease open.
“Could it be…?”
“Let’s find out.” Mara pushes ahead, and opens the door the rest of the way. “Don’t be afraid, we won’t….”
Paige joins her with a gasp. At the table, a family of four slumps across the table, blood staining the wood.
“Don’t throw up.” She must have seemed pale, and she does feel the bile rising, but forces past it. “Please.”
Paige nods, and Mara enters into the dark house. Mara lets go of her hand as she searches the rest of the house, and Paige can’t find herself to move past the entry room. She looks down to her feet, and her brow furrows at the small glint. She kneels down, and picks up the chain and charm, one in the shape of a cross, and looks up to the hand dangling from the table.
They must have known. They must have been praying to be saved….
She clenches the charm tight, and stands to see Mara return.
“There’s no one else in the house. We should move on.”
“No luck so far?” The Renegade asks as they approach. Mara answers for them with a shake of her head, and Paige stares down to the charm again, where it imprinted on her hand…
Beck turns, gripping the knife in his hand tight to search for any enemies, but relaxes when he sees Zed stumbling to him. He meets the other man, and he slows at the facts that Zed is holding something long in his hands, and he is shaking from head to toe.
“What is that?” Beck asks warily.
“I-I found it near the square. There was so much blood ...the bodies were indistinguishable. I barely found this.”
Zed holds out the object, and cautiously, Beck takes the sword, examining the hilt.
“Where is he?” He looks back up to Zed, who still shakes, and his face seems to age.
“I...I couldn’t find him. I couldn’t find Tron. I’m sorry.”
Beck doesn’t say a word. His head bows to the sword, and everyone gathering fall into a hush, as if everyone knew that the protege had found his mentor_ the leader of the revolution’s_ fallen sword.
Finally, he clenches the sword before wrapping the cord of the sheath to his side. Without a second glance, he starts slowly out of the city, climbing up the way they had come, and everyone slowly falls.
At the top, a rock is in his hand as he waits for everyone to pass him by. Then, he kneels down to overlook the massacred city. He creates a pit around the rock and places it firmly and sticks his oldest knife into the dirt in front of the rock. He stays there, and no one says a word. Paige clenches the necklace charm tight as the chain dangles. She closes her eyes tight as tears edge her eyelashes, and she turns her head away.
Nobody deserved this.
Finally, Beck sighs, and stands again. He doesn’t say a word to anyone he passes and climbs into the jeep next to Mr. Newhall.
“We need to turn back. Clu’s Army has already passed here, and that means they will be closing in on Argon if we don’t move fast.”
Mr. Newhall turns the jeep around and the others slowly begin to fall into step.
“Wait.” Mara stops at Paige’s strained whisper. She doesn’t stop to look back to see if Mara did or not as she kneels in front of the rock. Sighing, she tightens the hold of the knife in the ground, before resting chain over the hilt, and the charm softly blows in the wind. Then, she stands, watching the blackened sky where the fires had been put out, before she turns to Mara. “Let’s go.”
Chapter 22: Chapter 22
Confrontation of many kinds
They continue on in silence. Beck returns to his seat in the jeep, but has not relaxed yet, especially not when they reach the dam.
They stop and Beck climbs out to make it to the middle, over the riverbed. The dam is still present from when they had passed earlier that day. He runs and stops, glancing around both ways, before waving to the jeep. It starts off with a small roar, being the first thing to cross across the dammed up river.
“Hurry!” He calls to his troops, who jump off the riverbed and cross without as much as a glance back. Paige pulls Mara up to the other side when she trips, and they all watch as the Renegade brings up the rear. A successful cross.
A glint catches Paige’s eye, and her head snaps up to see the soldier in orange trim crouching over the Renegade. Her voice catches in her throat. Should she really give her allies away?
Luckily, she’s not the only one to notice.
Beck turns, and barely dodges the soldier that lands to one side, and then the other. He pulls out his sword to face the two. However, he starts at the war cry, and turns to the large army charging down the dry bed. His head snaps to his troops on the side, and then back to the opposing force.
“FALL BACK!” He calls across to them, then being diverted to block the assassin's lunge. Slowly the group begins to shuffle back at his command, but Paige doesn’t move. Her eye widens at the sight of the soldiers pouring out to the Renegade. She’s supposed to...supposed to…
What can she do ?
“Paige, fall back!” Mara calls, however when she reaches out, Paige breaks from the group and jumps.
“PAIGE!” She ignores the scream as she tears towards the scene, where she can see General Tesler approaching to where the others had pinned the Renegade down. They break away, and Beck sits up, barely scooting away from where Tesler had stabbed down. He rolls to his feet, and grabs his sword to lock in battle with the general. Tesler at the sound of her strides, and laughs, before nodding his head. One of the soldiers pushes a large gun into her arms as she slows to a stop.
The Renegade grunts and swings, rage and grief powering each move as he realized who he was against. Tesler blocks and knocks the Renegade off his feet, where he hits his head on a rock.
“Take the shot!” Tesler screams at her as he pins the Renegade under his boot. She glances to him to see him struggling against the weight, and then turns her gaze to the gun in her hands, and turns off the safety. One shot would instantly solve her problems, propelling her into glory. But is it really worth it…?
“ What are you waiting for?! ” Tesler demands. “Shoot him!”
Paige closes her eye, and sighs as she grips the gun tighter.
Finally, the shot echoes and the chaos seems to deafen as the recoil catches her in the shoulder rather painfully. In the moments of silence, Paige finally opens her eye to see the dam in front of her shifting and creaking from the portion that snaps from the shot. She turns to two aghast men.
Finally, Tesler roars and lunges at her. She’s too slow and her stomach stings as he tackles her to the ground, the gun by miracle not going off a second time. His hand goes to her neck as his other hand holds her down near the stomach.
“ Traitor!” He spits. “I’ll make you pay for what you’ve done!” His grip on her neck tightens and she cries out.
There is a crack and both look to see the dam begins to give way. Tesler turns back but the butt of her gun smacks him in the chin. He falls as she hurriedly snaps back on the safety before scrambling to her feet. She instantly rushes to Beck, who is stumbling to his feet. Before he can stop to gape at the dam, she grabs his arm. He stumbles at the force, but doesn’t fall. He glances back as the dam snaps and water rushes down, enveloping Tesler within moments.
“Come on!” She yells as she tugs his arm.
Mara waits at the bank, waving as a beacon. They’re almost there; maybe they’ll beat the wave.
Yet she feels it thunk into her back, knocking her off her feet. The angry force rips Beck out of her grip, and she hears Mara scream before she’s pulled under. The water’s cold and dark and it fills her open mouth. Wildly, she kicks off the ground and her head pops back above with a gasp.
Her head snaps around, searching the current for another boyd. She struggles to keep herself afloat when she sees Beck’s hand reach up. Gasping, she kicks against the current and reaches out, barely grabbing his wrist as he went under. She pulls him by the arm, then her hand finds his side, and pulls him up. He comes up gasping and coughing.
“Hold on.” She pants before readjusting her hold and kicking out.
The current tries to push her downriver but with a gasp, she’s able to make progress upstream, though minimal.
The river is wider than she remembers, and she feels herself tiring. Her head begins to go under, and in a panic, she stretches out, and the current tugs her along. It’s a fight she’s rapidly losing, she realizes as her head goes under and water rushes through her nose and mouth.
She could let Beck go….but the revolution wouldn’t have a leader. They couldn’t afford to lose both Beck and Tron, especially in the same day, and in his current state, he can’t get to shore on his own….
Her head pops up to see something hit the water not too far to her right. Blindly, she fumbles for the object and her fingers brush a rough surface.
Quickly, she grabs on and feels a slow but steady force pull on the rope. She pants as she kicks and holds Beck up. Her muscles scream and for a moment, her vision blurs as a large group appears on the shore line. Just a bit farther.
She then feels her feet hit sand and someone kneels in front of her.
“I got him.” Mara mutters as she grabs him by the armpits and drags him away. Paige’s hand drops to the sand, and she pulls herself out of the shore. Zed meets her, and helps her up before she shakily stumbles to him before falling to her knees.
“Careful.” Zed mutters to her, before turning his voice to the others. “Move back! Give them some breathing room!”
The circle that had formed around them relaxes and she sighs as she realizes Beck is conscious, and he manages to get onto his knees as he coughs. His hands them scramble to pull off the mask and it comes off with a gasp from him, which is softly followed by one from the crowd.
“ Beck… ”
His coughing subsides and Paige sighs as she looks to the snow beneath them.
“That_” She looks up as Beck speaks through pants_ “was dangerously stupid . What were you thinking?”
“I…” She takes a deep breath, realizing suddenly how light headed she feels.
“Whatever that was.” He cuts over her, and when he looks to her, there is a gleam in his eyes. “You rid of all of Clu’s forces single-handedly, and you saved my life.”
He’s looking fully at her now, somber. “I owe my life to you.”
After a moment, he gets to his feet, looking down to her. He holds out his hand. She looks to his hand….hands? She tries to figure out which one to reach for.
“Paige?” She looks up to the three Becks that blur in and out of focus, merging and dividing. “Paige what’s wrong? Why are you holding your side?”
She looks down to see her hand. Slowly and in curiosity, she pulls her hand to look and her blood soaked palm meets her. She realizes a dull, constant pain in her side, and it sharpens to the point of audible pain when she shifts.
“Get a medic. Hurry!”
She hears someone take off, and she squints up when someone puts a hand on her shoulder.
“Paige, stay with me.” Beck’s voice gets her attention. “Stay with us.”
Her eyes feel heavy and she doesn’t feel like fighting anymore. She lets her eyes close and falls forward…
Her name opens her eyes again and Beck’s features are above her instead of across from her. He looks away from her for a moment before returning his gaze to her. “Please…”
Yet, it’s a lost battle. She falls back, and Beck’s face blurs to nothing.
Chapter 23: Chapter 23
Confrontation in all the OTHER ways
Her head pounds as she wakes. It’s dark, and she’s lying on something soft, softer than anything the past few months. She winces to as so much as turn her head, but she can see her armor discarded to the side.
Light floods the room for a second, and she turns slowly to see Beck pause at the doorway. He’s staring at her, eyes wide as he doesn’t even seem to register her face.
Why is he staring_
Her hand hurries to cover the sun tattoo, but she knows he’s already seen it.
“Beck.” Her voice is...small. “I can explain…”
She begins to push to sit up, and he takes a step back. At that moment, Mr. Newhall rushes in, only to stop at the sight.
“I should have known!”
“Beck!” She tries to get his attention, but he seems to leave even quicker at his name. The advisor grabs her wrist with surprising strength and jerks her to her feet. She holds her bandaged self as she is pulled into the light.
“I should have known there was something up with her!” He throws her to the ground, before pointing at her. “She’s a spy for Clu’s Army, and has the mark to prove it!”
Mara covers her mouth with her hands as others gasp. Paige bends over herself, clutching harder at her side that she doesn’t even notice him approach Beck, who leans against the jeep with his arms crossed.
“You know what the punishment is for traitors.”
Beck merely flicks his gaze to him as for a long moment, he says nothing. Finally, he uncrosses his arms, reaches into the back of the jeep, and holds the pistol tight in his hand. As he disengaged the safety, all those frozen return to motion and chaos.
“Beck no! ” Mara runs to him, but Mr. Newhall intercepts her. “Don’t!”
Paige slowly looks up from her hunched position, and her grip tightens as he aims. She feels the cold metal of the muzzle against her forehead. His eyes harden, and his face betrays nothing about his thoughs. She can’t stand to look at him, so she closes her eyes to wait in the dark. There, all she could sense was her own breathing pattern and her frantic thoughts trying to figure out an escape. There is none, not this time. She deserves this, after all, she hurt them. At least she could allow herself to wait in the dark for death instead of having to see her friends’ faces…
She flinches at the shot, but finds herself still kneeling in the snow, and she can hear muttering. Slowly, she opens her eyes to see Beck is waiting for her response, before lowering his gun from the sky.
“Now we’re even.”
He holsters his gun before he continues, not able to look at her. “Don’t ever come back to Argon. It will be better for all of us if we never see you again.”
He turns his back to her. “Leave the tent and her belongings, and move out.”
His troops obey with few wordless glances to Paige, who averts her own.
“B-but…” Mr. Newhall sputters after Beck, “this isn’t what Tron would have done_!”
Beck turns on him so suddenly that he can’t even finish his sentence. The look in his eyes struggles for control over burning rage and pelting grief and he doesn’t speak for a long moment. Finally, he allows himself.
“I am NOT Tron. And I won’t ever be!” He turns away before his advisor can say another word. When he realizes everyone had stopped to watch the outburst, he returns to strict business. “Move out!”
Everyone returns to gathering their things and within moments, the army begins their march home. Paige watches them go, still hunched over herself. When they disappear, she relaxes, and looks to her pack left in the snow. After a long pause, she struggles to her feet and stumbles to her pack. Grunting, she lifts it to see all her rations and supplies had been left untouched. She looks up to the long gone army’s tracks, as she grips her bag tighter. She would live another day.
The chilling breeze reminds her of the winter, and that she is barefoot. She shoulders the bag, glancing back once, before retreating to the tent.
Chapter 24: Chapter 24
No good omens
She stays where she is for a couple days until she’s certain she has enough strength to move. And now that the week is ending, she decides.
It’s time to leave. But where to next?
Not to Argon, she wasn’t sure what they’d do if she went back.
Was she an outlaw? It was doubtful, since the only soldiers from Clu’s Army who discovered her rebellion were probably dead, as much as she hates to admit that. But if she goes anywhere, Dyson would know and come for her. Then what?
She’s not sure, but it wouldn’t hurt to try. She could always escape back to isolation if need be. Spring’s on it’s way, anyway.
She’s already packed her tent, and is stuffing her rations when a roar breaks her concentration. She pauses, before hurrying to the end of the hill to see the thousands of orange trimmed soldiers, and, if she squints hard enough, she can identify the face of the soldier in the lead.
Gasping, she returns to her bag and shoulders it before tearing off down the hill. She has to warn Beck, and Mara and Zed and all the other citizens of Argon, before it’s too late.
Chapter 25: Chapter 25
Warnings should be heeded
Argon is barely guarded when she slowly arrives, unlike last time when soldiers hounded her before she even drew close. Her breath hitches in reminder of those easier times, and she hurries to control it as she stands upright. One last deep breath before she begins forward, eyeing the posts. They remain still...perhaps they are empty.
Definitely. It’ll be that much easier for Dyson to enter the city.
After she passes underneath, she hurries into the city. Hopefully Beck’s office is in the same place as before…..
She slows at the sight of the guards in front of the steps, rifles resting on a shoulder. One glances to the side, and stops when they see her. They don’t recognize her…. have I been away that long? And did they keep my ‘betrayal’ quiet?
“Who are you?” They stop her when she grows close. “What do you want?”
“I need to talk to the Renegade.” She glances around them to see that for once the blinds are open, and inside, Beck and Mara are bent over something in discussion. “It’s important.”
“He’s not seeing anyone right now. Come back later.”
I can’t come back later! Dyson’s army will be arriving any time now!
“ But it’s important!”
“Well this ‘important matter’ will have to wait!”
“I’m serious! Please…” She pleads. “Just let me talk to him.”
“You need to leave.” Their expression doesn’t change.
“But_” The guards takes her by the arm and begins to pull her along. She digs in her fight, and the other guard has to leave his post to help. “Stop! I need to talk to Beck!
“What’s going on out here?”
All three stop and turn to Beck, who is standing at the top of the steps, still in the suit of white (from her distance, Paige can see the faint bloodstains that wouldn’t come out of the white because of her). They all pause, before Paige pushes out of their grip, starting to the steps. “I need to talk to you_”
One of the guards grabs her arm and pulls her back. “I’m sorry, sir. I was escorting her away right_”
“No, let her come.” Beck’s expression barely shifts, and he merely stares at her with the same piercing gaze from the first time they met. The guard lets go of her as Beck closes the door behind him and starts down the steps. Taking her by the shoulder, he leads her away from the guards, until they are alone.
“What are you doing herre?” He hisses as he lets go fo her. “I told you never to come back.”
“I know.” She sighs. “But I saw something out there...something you’ll want to know about.”
He crosses his arms, gaze burning into her. “Go ahead.”
“Clu’s Army is on their way. I saw them marching through the Outlands.”
“Not possible.” Beck dismisses. “General Tesler is dead.” He takes that as the end of the discussion and begins to walk off.
“It’s not Tesler!” She calls after him, and he stops. After a pause, he turns back to her.
Beck’s guarded expression falters, and she can see his eyes widen.
“You know who he is. Clu’s second in command is heading to Argon, to here , with troops!”
“That’s not possible.”
“I’m not lying!”
“How do I know that?” He snaps back.
“Because I’m your friend_”
“No!” He stalks to her, and points towards the horizon. “You work for them! ”
She opens her mouth to argue, but his snappish exhale through his nose makes her stop.
“I told you once before not to come back. Leave, and if you ever come back, I’ll be forced to carry out your original sentence. Do you really want to die?”
She closes her mouth, gaze burning. “Fine.” She adjusts her hold on her bag, and stalks away from him.
Maybe... She shakes her head. Maybe he’ll listen in time, and they’ll be ready .
She exits the city without incident, and is climbing up the hill, when she hears the first explosion. She turns back to see forces running into the city, and the screams catch her from here.
Their citizens are still among them! The innocents!
Forgetting about Beck’s order and the threat of execution, snow kicks up as she takes off down the hill.
Quickly, snow transforms to concrete underneath her feet, and she’s reaching for her weapons when she stops at the burning roof of a house. She can hear the screaming, young and piercing. With a gasp, she kicks aside debris before nearly knocking the door off its hinges to get in. There! The two children back away until she closes in and picks them both up.
“It’s okay, I’m here to help!” She ducks herself below the smoke as much as she can, and runs out of the house just before the roof collapses inward. She sets both down.
“Where are your parents?”
Neither answer, for one is sobbing and the other coughing. She remembers the tunnels underneath the city. Mara had showed them to her once...virtually indestructible….
“Get to the tunnels!” She told them. “You’ll be safe there.”
The two nod, and the elder takes the youngest by the hand and they take off around the corner. She follows for a moment to see them to safety, before taking off again, pulling off her weapon. Clu’s soldiers fall at her strikes in the sporadic intervals, but the fight bottlenecks at the area where Beck’s office is. At the top of the steps, the man himself slashes a soldier to the side, before running down the steps into the chaos.
“Get to the tunnels, pass it on!” She yells to a couple running past her. They don’t stop but yell an acknowledgement as she takes off to join the fight.
Everything blurs together as she lunges at the orange-trimmed figures. The crowd begins to thin as people from both sides either flee or fall, and now she can clearly see Beck. His scream of rage flies above the crowd as he charges at the masked soldier with the sword. The soldier blocks, and punches Beck across the jaw, and he stumbles.
She can’t move before something weighted catches her in the legs and she falls. Stupid... They had come on her left side and now a soldier stands above her, face impassive as they directly kick her in the nose. Blood spurts out but before she can do anything to stop the blows or the blood, the second kick comes and everything disappears.
Chapter 26: Chapter 26
In the deafening silence
Her head aches when she wakes with a groan. Her vision blurs for a moment, before it clears out and she finds the silence almost deafening.
Grunting, she shakily pushes to a sitting position, spitting out the taste of blood before sighing. She turns to a scene she should know until to find the two key characters...gone.
This is enough motivation for her to push to her feet, and, in noticing the other bodies, stumbles off to each. She doesn’t pause for Clu’s army, but instead for the dark of the rebels, searching for friends among the bodies. Yet it seems those dead soldiers took many with them. A heaviness sets in her stomach. What if Zed and Mara are…?
She pauses at the shock blue among the black. Gasping, she stumbles on shaky form to where Mara’s eyes are closed and she’s limp. Kneeling, Paige presses two fingers against Mara’s neck, and feels a slow pulse. She’s alive.
“Mara.” She whispers, shaking her friend’s shoulder. “Mara, wake up.”
Her brow furrows, but her eyes slowly open. “...What…?”
“You’re alive.” Paige feels as if she’s stating the obvious, but relief fills her and she catches Mara’s attention.
“Paige…? You came back, I thought I saw you and….oh my god, your face…”
“Got kicked in the face. My nose is probably broken.”
“You came back.” Mara whispers again as Paige helps her to her feet.
“I couldn’t just stand by and watch.”
“That means…” Her eyes widen. “If Beck sees you, he’ll have to kill you!”
“Mara.” She sets her hand on Mara’s shoulder, slowly turning her around. “We’ve got bigger problems.”
She gasps, covering her mouth at the view of the bodies.
“What’s even worse is that before I was knocked out, Beck had been fighting someone. And now, he’s gone.”
“He can’t be dead.” Mara decides after a pause. “He has to be alive.”
“I hope so.” Paige sighs. “But we also need to prepare for the worst.”
She feels Mara tense beneath her grip, and so she lets go.
“I’m sorry, but second-in-command will need to take over until he is found.”
And if he’s not? The question hangs between the two, before Mara nods.
“I know.” She turns to Paige. “I’m his second-in-command.”
Paige nods. Understandable choice. “What do we need to do?
Chapter 27: Chapter 27
Waiting for the good days again
It takes hours, but with the help of surviving troops and citizens willing to step in, the bodies are cleared off the streets. The soldiers of Clu’s army are taken to a mass grave outside the city that some dug out, while friends are to be given a proper burial.
Paige doesn’t watch those; she could barely take the scene of the mother who had found her son while searching through the bodies. The way she held his body and rocked with sobs is permanently ingrained in her mind.
I should have been quicker. Should have been more insistent.
Maybe...if I hadn’t taken this mission in the first place, none of this would have happened.
“Paige.” She looks up at her name to see Mara approaching her, a new guard to her expression. “Follow me.”
She nods, and the two women take the stairs to Beck_no Mara’s _ office. Paige enters first and Mara closes the door behind her.
“You know,” Paige comments, trying to ease the air. “I’m surprised Mr. Newhall hasn’t tried to arrest me yet.”
“Oh, Beck fired him when we got back.” Mara shrugs as she stands next to the desk. “He didn’t really do much anyway.”
At that, Paige laughs.
Mara waits for Paige to calm before sighing. “Paige...I want you as my second-in-command.”
Paige fully stops, blinking at Mara. “...What?”
“You heard me.”
“But I’m technically a criminal. I betrayed you guys.”
“I’m pardoning you. You didn’t give anything away, and you have stepped in when it counted.”
“W-why not Zed? Or someone else? Why me?”
“I already put Zed in charge of training new recruits, but I need someone who knows what I’m thinking, and can offer a different perspective. If…” She swallows, “If we don’t find Beck, then we’ll need to plan our next move. If you accept the position, that is.”
Paige frowns in thought. Do I really deserve this?
Wait. It doesn’t matter whether I do or not. This is more important than myself; and if I can help in any way, I will.
“I’ll do it.”
Chapter 28: Chapter 28
More complications make for a wish to easier times
Two days have passed, and Paige and Mara hunch around the map.
“How many troops do we have out there?”
“That’s the problem. We don’t know; we’ve lost contact.”
“So it would be best to assume none?”
“Probably.” Mara nods, running a hand through her hair. “We could speed up training for the next few battalions.”
“‘We could, but we’re running out of people.”
“I know.” Mara sighs.
“We should take on defense; keep to the city.”
“But what about the citizens? We can’t just evacuate everytime…” She stops at the fizzling. Paige turns to see the old telivision set in the corner turn on and the static fizzle. She glances to the window to find the speakers turn on, and the voice makes her freeze.
“Citizens of Argon.” Dyson’s voice booms, and on the screen, his face is in full view with a burning gaze.
“I am Major General Dyson of the Royal Army. I have personally arrived to ease our tensions and squash out the rebels among you. Unnecessary blood was spilt upon our arrival, but any more can be saved by cooperation. “
“What cooperation?” Paige shrugs at Mara’s question.
“In case you are not aware, we are in possession of something near and dear to all of you.”
The camera turns and Paige gasps. Tron is barely conscious, but almost as if on cue, he glares up at Dyson. Though looking older and beaten with the scars and dried blood covering his face, he still commanded attention, so it’s hard to pull her gaze away to look to Beck.
He however, is a different story. One eye is swollen completely shut, his nose at an angle suggests it is broken. There are other cuts, bruises, burns, even tears in his clothing that were not there before the battle. He can’t hold himself up, so his head hangs.
“Oh my god….”
“You can save them, though.” Dyson returns. “I will promise their release if you send your current leader to me to negotiate the terms of your surrender.”
“You have twenty-four hours to meet me at the field, or you’ll never see them again.” And with that, the screens turns off and the static goes silent. Slowly, Mara sits down in the chair, instantly slumping as her eyes seem preoccupied. After a pause, she leans against the desk, head in hands.
“We have to surrender.” She mutters.
“Who knows if Beck and Tron will survive? We can’t keep going without them…”
“But to surrender ? That’s crazy! Do you know what they will do to everyone should we surrender.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Well I have a pretty good idea, and it wouldn’t be worth trying to save them if we’re all going to wind up dead anyways.” She crosses her arms and Mara pushes to her feet.
“Oh like there’s an alternative?”
“There always is ….” Paige breaks off, and before Mara can ask why, she snaps her fingers.
“I’ve got an idea.”
Chapter 29: Chapter 29
The final stand
Mara sets off four hours later, and Zed and Paige wait at the office.
“So...the broadcast came from the meeting hall?”
“Yeah. Which makes sense; it’s in a part of the city that hadn’t been touched by the fighting. Is your team ready?”
She glances out the window to see the small group waiting at the sidewalk. They were the most experienced in stealth out of all the groups being trained or waiting for their orders.
“Okay.” He passes her a comm. “I’ll set up a three-way connection between me, you, and Mara. That we can relay any changes.”
“Got it.” She hooks it on.
“Be careful.” He urges, finally looking up to her. His eyes are clouded. “I want all my friends to come back.”
“I will.” She nods before flashing the ghost of a smile and taking outside to her team.
“Stay back.” She hisses, holding her arm out. She peeks around the corner to the guards standing in front of the door
“Okay. Two guards at the door. We need to get by without being caught. Who’s the quietest two?”
The two near the back raise their hands.
“Okay. Be quick then. We’ll follow when you finish.”
They nod and take off the opposite way to round the building. She ducks back behind, listening before she hears two thuds and hurrying footsteps. She meets the two and with a quick nod, the group moves to the door. Luckily, it’s unlocked.
Unluckily, she curses, they forgot about the patrol. Without glancing back, she throws the door open and pushes everyone in.
“ What’s going on ?”
“We forgot about the patrol. We were seen.”
Zed curses. “ Okay. I’ll try and buy you guys some time before Dyson finds out.”
“Got it.” She cuts off to search the room to find...no one.
“Where are they…?” They have to be here, where could they be….
She turns to see one of the younger members holding open the door to the back. “In here!”
Her breath catches in her chest and she runs to meet him at the door. The room is dark, but at the noise, she sees Tron warily look up.
“Hold the door.” She tells the youngest member before calling the rest over. She slips into the room and as she nears Tron, he stiffens and pulls away.
“ Back. Off. ” He growls.
“Tron, we’re not apart of Clu’s army.” Saying his name feels strange on her tongue, but she ignores it as she reaches out. “We’re here to get you out.”
Someone slips behind him and the cuffs come off without much of a fight. He pushes himself to his feet, stumbling. The one who uncuffed him races to his side, and he doesn’t argue.
“Get him out of here. I’ll get Beck.”
Tron’s helper nods, and they and two others limp out. Paige doesn’t wait, but instead runs into the dark, searching for a form.
Where is he…?
She stiffens at the groan, realizing how close it sounds. She falls to her knees, hands blindly searching until she touches a tear in fabric and her breath catches.
There he is.
“Beck…” She slowly sits him up. He doesn’t respond audibly, but is able to stand when she pulls him up. She drapes his arm over her shoulder. “Come on, Beck. We’re going to get you out of here.”
“ Paige, get out of there now!”
“...Zed?” She feels him stir slightly at the name, and she holds onto Beck tighter.
“ You need to get out of there before Dyson gets there. He found out, and he’s not happy. ”
“Trying to, I just..” They enter the light, and she breaks off.
Dyson is panting, arm around Mara’s neck tight. Paige stops and watches her friend struggle against the grip.
“You...aren’t holding up your part of the deal.”
“Deal?” Tron glances between the people on either side of him. Dyson shifts his arm slightly, with a fierce grin.
“The deal was surrender, and
you could get Tron and the Renegade. But this deal is void...everything is off_”
He screams when Mara bites down on his arm, and his grip goes slack. Mara unlatches, and grabs his arm. With a slight scream, she bends down and pulls him over her shoulder. He hits the ground with a grunt. She steps on his chest, holding his arm at a straight angle. The two members of Paige’s team run to assist her, one with cuffs.
Once the major general is cuffed, they pull him to his feet, and two more join as escort, leaving Tron to be able to stand straight. He looks to Mara, and then to Paige holding Beck, and says nothing, before following the escort out.
Chapter 30: Chapter 30
Victory still waits, but our end is here.
The medics take Beck out of her grip as soon as they return. He’s placed on a stretcher and wheeled away, while two help Tron follow. Paige stops to watch them go.
We did it….
But what now?
She doesn’t know what waits in store for them...only time will tell.
Two days later, everyone is called to the center of the square. Tron waits for them all with arms clasped behind him. Beck is beside him, bruises still fading.
Mara has stepped down from her position, and Paige followed suit, hoping to disappear back into the crowd. She doesn’t know how conscious Beck was of his surroundings, but maybe she can get out before he realizes…
By the way Mara is gripping her wrist, she doesn’t think it’s likely.
“Though we have won this battle for Argon.” Tron calls. “The war still waits ahead. And before we continue to a victory, things have to be addressed.”
He turns, to where is Beck is staring, and now both stare at Paige. Mara steps in front of her.
“Paige.” Beck says finally. “I know you’re there.”
The crowd turns, and Paige tries to avoid them all. However, with each passing second exposing her more and more, she takes a deep breath, and comes out from behind Mara.
“Come up here.” Tron commands. Paige glances around once more, before obeying. The crowd parts for her and slowly she climbs onto the raised stage. She bows her head as Tron grunts.
“Beck’s told me about you.” She doesn’t dare look up at that. “A foreigner who almost failed out, got herself into fights, and then was the spy we were warned of. We all know the laws that have been put in place.”
Paige clenches her shaking fists, and nods after a moment. “I-I understand.”
Tron sets a hand on her shoulder and she stiffens.
“And yet…” He says finally. “You came back anyways. Despite what it meant, you returned to help us when we most needed it. Look up to me.”
She obeys, and he turns her to the crowd. “She will receive full pardon of past actions in honor of her bravery and valor!”
She can hear Mara’s gasp and Paige’s own hand goes to cover her mouth as tears finally fall. She feels the hand on her other shoulder, and turns to see Beck smiling at her, before his hand slips down and takes her hand and squeezes it. She looks to it as Beck speaks.
“I also offer to her a spot as one of two commanders, alongside our current: Mara. That is_” He looks to her. “If she accepts.”
Paige’s eye widens, searching him to find sincerity. Finally, she relaxes, squeezes his hand, and says: “I would be honored.”
Mara screams and the crowd soon joins her in a victory cry. Paige can’t stop herself from grinning, and she and Beck meet gaze again, before she looks up to the sky above.
War is still coming. There is no doubt about it. One last hurdle before victory.
But it’ll be worth it, to spend my days with Beck, to remain with Zed and Mara, to watch this city grow.
To finally be home.