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He needs to breathe.

Breathe in, breathe out.

But he can’t.

His heartbeat thrums in his chest. The light blue of his corona flutters around him. Bright blue twisting around his hands as he stares at them, unable to comprehend what he’s done.

He needs to breathe.       

Breathe in, breathe out.


But when he looks up, he can still see Vyrnnus. Or rather, he can see one, wide-open, terrified eye, between the cluster of adults that surround him. The same adults who’d been content to stand at the side-lines, writing things on datapads, while that bastard had tormented them.

All of them.

Even the young children.

It isn’t right.


His neck is at a horrible angle. He doesn’t know anything about medicine, but it doesn’t look good. Doesn’t look like something he could recover from. He didn’t mean to do it, hadn’t planned anything.

He just wanted to help his friend.

Some of the adults peel away from the group, but they aren’t taking him away.

Why aren’t they taking him away?

He’s still alive, at least for the moment. He can hear a horrible gurgling sound, and a gasping, like he’s trying to get air into his lungs. They aren’t good sounds, but they mean he’s alive, at least. At least for now. He hasn’t killed him. 

Not yet.

They should take him away.

Instead he feels a heavy hand land on his own shoulder.

Breathe in, breathe out.


He doesn’t resist as he’s led away, still glowing, still struggling to breathe, as they pass her.


The only light, the only joy, he’d found in this place is cowering away from him. Like the monster he’s beginning to think he is, as the gurgling sounds stop entirely.

He’s not sure what’s going to happen to him now, isn’t sure he cares, as the blue corona finally fades and they shove him harshly through the doors.

He just manages to catch himself before he falls.


She needs to breathe.

Breathe in, breathe out.

Evenly, controlled. Projecting an air of absolute confidence and powerful grace.

Everybody fails the first time.

Everybody. Even Anderson had failed the first time. He’d told her so before she’d even begun; no-one but no-one passed the end of basic obstacle course the first time.

And okay, perhaps not everyone failed as spectacularly as she had, but still, everybody failed. She hadn’t expected to be different or special in that regard.

But some people, people who were good and would go on to be great succeeded the second time, and she absolutely intended on being one of those.

Jamerson had done it.

If there was one thing more annoying than his stuck-up, arrogant attitude in general, one thing more annoying than the fact that every second sentence out of his mouth was ‘My father is a captain’, it was that the bastard actually had the skills to back up his arrogance.

She’ll be damned if she’s about to let him be the only one to pass second time.

Breathe in, breathe out.


She takes a step forward, teetering on the edge, letting the urge to fall pull at her for a second as she feels the anticipation and the adrenaline coursing through her system.

Then she leaps.


He is having the worst time of his life.

They march him into a tiny, lockable room. One he hasn’t seen before, and that probably isn’t good. There aren’t any windows, and that probably isn’t good either.

They leave him with nothing but a shadowy presence at the single door. Whether the man is a guard or a jailer, he doesn’t know. Probably both. They give him no water, no food. Nothing to replace the calories he’d lost with that… display. Either because they don’t realise, or because they don’t care. He isn’t sure which would be worse.

If he tries, he can hear them whispering outside. Snatches of conversation about him, about Vyrnnus, about what they were going to do now.

Part of him feels like he deserves whatever punishment they decide to mete out.

Part of him rails against it, pointing out that he had only tried to defend his friend.

They shouldn’t have allowed that bastard anywhere near them. This is all their fault.

He shouldn’t have snapped, shouldn’t have lost control, shouldn’t have killed. This is all his fault.

He doesn’t know how many hours he sits there, but eventually the whispering subsides. He wonders if they’ve forgotten about him. In a way, it would be nice if they’ve forgotten about him, because that way he can just stay here. After everything that’s happened, everything he’s done…

He’s not entirely sure if he can keep going.


She is having the best time of her life.

There is no time to celebrate every hit, every obstacle perfectly navigated, just as there is no time to berate herself for each opportunity missed. There is only the clock running down and the next section of the course.

She assembles the pistol and races forward.

Target at 11 o’clock; shoot; do not focus on the fact that the hit wasn’t quite centre; move forward; leap the boundary; target at four o’clock; keep going.

She knows this course, has memorised its outline, has learnt its traps and its pitfalls. She just hadn’t known how it would feel to actually run it.

It’s why she failed the first time. Why everyone does.

She isn’t going to fail the second time.

She knows the course now, mind and body. There’s nothing but her own ability stopping her from succeeding. She can do this. She will do this.

Run; jump; climb; shoot; focus.

Don’t look at the timer as you pass it, it doesn’t matter. She knows from experience that the buzzer signalling her failure is loud enough to hear from any part of the course.

And she hasn’t heard it, so all she has to do is keep going.


He stares up at the familiar façade. He remembers being taken away from here, one day after school. Glancing back to look at the house he’d grown up in and wonder if he’d ever see it again.

He wanted to see it again, but not under these circumstances.

He doesn’t know what his parents have been told by the Alliance, doesn’t know how much he’ll have to explain. He doesn’t want to have to explain any of it.

He just wants to go home and have everything be all right again.

But then what?

He has no plan, no direction, not any more. Only a burning desire to never, ever join the Alliance.

One stupid moment, one stupid decision, and his life has changed forever.


She hits the button, or, more accurately, she slams the button with her full body weight just to eliminate any chance that her success doesn’t register.

Panting, out of breath, and about to collapse she spins around to face the clock.

Nine minutes, forty-three seconds.

Three seconds faster than Jamerson.

She’s done it.

Not only has she passed, but she’s passed second time and she’s beaten Jamerson.

This is it.

She’s joining the Alliance and her life is about to change forever.