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Saving and Being Saved

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Mikey knows he’s a third. No one’s ever actually said it to him. Elena would shout at them if anyone did. And before Gerard left, he probably would have punched the person in the nose. The people that love him are scary to others. It’s part of why he loves them so much. His parents would probably shout too, but he knows he could hear the shame in their voice.

The thing is, nobody has to say it for him to know. Gerard was always of the opinion that the more they knew, the better they could prepare for everything. It’s probably one of the reasons they took him. When Gerard was around they were always sneaking into places, gathering intel. In Dad’s dresser drawer, under all his socks, there is a picture. It’s of Gerard, with a little brother, one that doesn’t look like him. Gerard claims he can’t remember, and Mikey believes him even though it doesn’t make sense that he wouldn’t. Gerard wouldn’t lie to him. They lie to other people, but not to each other.

He’s one of the few in his class with a monitor still attached to his neck. They can’t decide if they want to send him. There’s nothing Mikey wants more in the world then to go, but he’s good at hiding everything. If they know they’ll figure out it’s for all the wrong reasons and they won’t send him. He keeps quiet enough that he doesn’t raise suspicions, speaks up enough that he doesn’t seem shy. He answers just enough questions to prove he’s intelligent without seeming like a bookworm that wouldn’t last in battle. He plays every adult he can, and carefully doesn’t smirk when they fall into play, because the last thing he needs is for them to somehow get an image uploaded and realise they don’t actually know what’s going through his brain.

It’s exhausting sometimes, making sure that everything he does proves he’s a good candidate for Battle School. He’s self aware enough to know he’s not legitimately a good candidate. he gets hyper and reckless sometimes, depressed and withdrawn other times. It’s a mental and emotional defect he cannot afford if he ever wants to see Gerard again, so he hides it. It doesn’t matter how he’s feeling, as long as it seems like he’s feeling whatever is appropriate for the moment. And when he wants to stop hiding, he just reminds himself Gerard. All Mikey needs to do is pull this off, and then he can rest.

*

Gerard is going to save the world. He knows. He’s sure of it. He can’t remember how old he was the first time he thought it, it’s just always been known in his head. It’s mixed up with everything else he knows, like Momma and Dad love him, but they don’t quite get either of their children, like Elena knows everything about everything, like protect Mikey.

He doesn’t remember everything, all the time. The guidance counsellors at school thought something was wrong with him, that he needed help. But they didn’t have time to do anything to him before Graff came to take him away. He remembers asking Graff why they wanted him, he doesn’t remember the answer. Now that he’s at Battle School not remembering things scares him a lot more. He doesn’t have anyone to remind him of things. He reads and reads and reads, and tries to forget that sometimes he doesn’t know if he already knows what he’s reading. He’s got to collect information all by himself now.

Gerard wants to talk to the Buggers. He only wants to kill enough that they’ll take him seriously, and then he can try and learn their language. He and Mikey used to lie on the grass, trying to hear the noises ants made. He thinks the Buggers will click and hiss, and he practises snapping his fingers when nobody is watching. If he can talk to them, then they can stop killing each other.

He can’t tell anyone that’s what he’s going to do though. It goes against everything they teach at School. It’s rebellion and it’ll get him washed out in three seconds flat. It sucks not being able to share his ideas. It’s another thing he’s never had to deal with before. Gerard’s always been able to tell Elena and Mikey everything. The things he couldn’t say he could draw out, the things that didn’t have words. He doesn’t think Buggers could hold a pen, but he’ll bring one with him, just in case.

Battle School actually really sucks. He knows exactly how different he is from the other boys, and the few girls here -which is another thing, he wants to talk to someone about how unfair it is that there’s only Petra and a half a dozen others, but nobody would listen- and knows how important it is that he hide it. But there’s a goal at the end of it, so he just needs to survive forgetting and being strange for a bit more. He just needs to wait for Mikey. Mikey is coming. He promised he would, and they’re brothers, they don’t lie to teach other. Mikey will come, and then he won’t be alone anymore.

*

Frank wishes someone would give him a cool nickname. It’s something he knows from home, where there are a dozen Franks, a dozen Tonys, a dozen Vinces in his neighbourhood. There might not be more than two children in a family, but when every house on the street has two children, there are still a lot of kids arching their heads towards their houses when a voice screams ‘Frank’ out the front door. When he was playing Buggers, or hockey, or Cops, none of them were Tony. Snothead and Roach and Train and Gasser and, well, really, the list went on for as long as the culdesac did.

He can’t give himself one. That’s lame. More than lame, if the guys at home ever found out they would tie him to the goalie net and take shots. It’s something you don’t do. It’s like dissing someone’s dad, or telling someone your mom’s recipes. Even if he can think of a dozen cool ones. It doesn’t matter, because the risk of people finding out you started it is too high.

He wants to be Ricochet. A good nickname is one that’s based on obvious physical attributes, or constant mannerisms. Snothead was constantly sick, and constantly making himself sick by running out to play the second he could even walk again. In the battle room Frank spends a lot of time bouncing off walls. It’s more than just liking to launch himself as hard as he can against things, though there’s something satisfying about bruises that most of the kids at Battle School don’t seem to understand. It’s strategy too. When he’s moving that fast people have trouble shooting him. Unless they can aim for where he will be instead of where he is or should be. Granted, they’re all shooting buffs. They wouldn’t be at Battle School if they weren’t capable of it. But usually they go after an easier target at the beginning of the game, and the longer Frank lasts, the better his stats.

*

It’s hard being part of yellow-brown-black. Bob is in no way the leader of Raccoon. He’s years younger than any toon leader, he’s not going to be considered a possibility by anyone for years. He doesn’t think he’d want to be a toon leader. But he’s got ideas, and people know how to use them. Whenever Klaus pulls him to the side Bob helps him think of strategies. Klaus never says how he’s come up with the idea before Raccoon starts to practice it, and Bob doesn’t care. He’s not really one for the spotlight.

Hell, he doesn’t even really like the battle simulations in general. Bob’s not an idiot, he knows quite well that every time their team wins the adults are watching. Every move you make is a test. Back when he was at home, every kid on the street played Buggers. Bob and his best friend Bert were always the most ruthless at it, Bert could take down a kid from ten feet away with a flying kick to the knee. Bert got invited to Battle School, but he didn’t go. Everyone said it was because his parents were maniacs, people that followed religion. Bob thinks he’s probably the only one that knows the truth. Bert refused to go because his best friend Quinn (Bob’s was Bert, but Bert’s was Quinn, but Bob didn’t care, it wasn’t the sort of thing that offended him) was never even in the running. Quinn was too violent, and that Bert cared so much made him weak. Bob doesn’t make relationships, because he knows they’re watching for them. He doesn’t like being tested.

What he really wants is to be a tech on the ship. If he thought they’d let him, he would follow the adults around and watch how they work on the ship. There are entire sections he’s not allowed to go in. More than once he’s tried to hack the computer so he can check out blueprints, but it won’t let him. It seems there are simple hacks the computers will let you do, and things the adults actually care about and are serious about blocking.

But if he makes it through Battle School, then he can go to Command School, and follow the various threads of education and power until he finds a way into the bowels of ships. Everything is eventual.

*

Ray’s losing on purpose now. It’s not a good strategy for surviving Battle School, but that’s basically the point. Trying to survive here is making him into a bad person, he doesn’t need to play their fucking psych video games to know that.

When the enter the Battle Room for a competition he throws himself where he knows he’ll get zapped. He’s as much told his toon leader he isn’t planning on playing. For the longest time -four games- Carn thought he was joking. The other teams saw how it was before Carn, starting the third game they didn’t bother to get him first because he didn’t shoot anyone, he was easy pickings.

Rabbit army hates him for it. He’s dragging down their statistics. Ray doesn’t think it’s by much, it’s impossible that his refusal to shoot others single-handedly makes them lose. He doesn’t try to argue it though, caring about statistics, about how well you’re pretending to murder others, it’s all part of the system that he’s trying to avoid. Carn Carby loathes him, he’s approached every other team about trading. Every team has refused, and each time he comes back from a failed negotiating session Carn spits in his hair.

Pretty soon they’re going to start threatening him. He knows they will, almost looks forward to it. Once they start covering him in bruises, it will be far more noticeable to the teachers and he can wash out all the faster. He’s been here a year and he doesn’t want a moment more. All he wants is to play music. His older brother was teaching him how to play guitar when they ripped him from everything important and real to cram him in a stupid floating school where every student is a sociopath.

If he goes home with every bone broken, he’ll still be able to hum as he’s laid out on his bed. And if Farid or Erwin get carried away and actually kill him, four years older and much stronger, well, he’ll die with a song on his lips. It’s better than staying here.