I sat quietly in the cafeteria, spooning stew mechanically into my mouth, Simon hadn’t written me once. He promised to write every week. Months, and I hadn’t heard from him. Suddenly it was all making sense, I had been making excuses for him, telling myself he was busy, he would write soon. But no, he’s just forgotten.
I sighed, pushing away the rest of the stew, not hungry anymore. I felt tiny and alone, Volger was right, I was nothing but a little mouse. I had a feeling the trap was snapping shut.
“River!” Someone hissed my name. I frowned, looking up toward the doorway, Nevva waved frantically to me, beckoning me to her. I quickly gathered up my tray and dropped it off. I hurried over to her. She didn’t wait for me at the door, but waved to me from the stairwell, I followed a bit behind her all the way up to our room.
“Nevva?” I asked, pushing inside.
Someone clamped a hand over my mouth. And an arm around my neck, cutting off the air, I tried to scream, but nothing came out as I was slowly lowered to the floor. A piece of paper was thrust into my hands. I read it quickly.
Nevva stepped out in front of me, a finger to her lips. I nodded and the arms let me go. I stood quietly as Lee stepped in front of me, taking the paper and a pulling a pencil from her pocket. She erased the first message and wrote, the rooms are bugged. I nodded again to show I understood, even though I was more confused than ever.
“Was dinner good?” Nevva asked out loud. I glanced at Lee who nodded for me to answer.
“It was fine.” I frowned at her.
Lee scribbled on the paper before thrusting it at me.
Tonight, you and Nevva come with me.
I nodded, turning to Nevva. “Are you ready for training?”
“Yes, change and we can walk together.”
I dug through my dresser pulling out the loose tunic and pants we wore for training, and slipping into them. When I turned around Lee was gone.
We practiced hand to hand combat. I’d never been interested before, but I’d begun looking forward to it. It reminded me of dancing, only lethal.
It was also the only ‘extracurricular’ activity I shared with Nevva. We paired up and began sparing. I quickly fell into the rhythm of it. She punched and I dropped to the ground, sweeping a leg under her. She fell to the ground and I heard the air rush from her. It didn’t slow her down and she was back on her feet in a flash. Almost before she was up I swung again, but she dodged and faked a punch to the left. I fell for it and her knee connected with my kidneys.
The teacher circled the pairs of students, occasionally murmuring tips or demonstrating a defense. Nevva and I were the newest students and yet we held our own against the others if need be. The teacher paused beside us, watching as we circled one another.
“Das Fallen schneller abwärts.” The words came out as a whisper, but I heard him. Blood pounded in my ear and my vision tunneled in on Nevva. I bounded forward, clocking her in the face before she knows what’s happened; she fell in a pile to the ground. The class went silent, all fighting stopped.
I turned to the nearest person; somewhere in the back of my mind I registered it as Volger. I snap kicked him in the stomach, but he was ready for it, and grabbed my foot holding tight. I tried to pull back but he’s got a firm hold.
“River.” There’s no emotion in his voice. I jumped kicking my free leg over the one he’s trapped, it tore across his jaw and he let go, slamming to the ground. I landed on both feet, crouched and scanned the room for a new target.
“Wahnsinn, der umgekehrt gleitet,” the teacher whispered the words and Volger’s eyes snapped up to meet mine. He shoved himself to his feet with ease. He swung at me, but his aim was off and I dodged easily. I grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his back until I heard a snap. He cried out and threw his head back into my chin. I tasted blood and let go of him to touch my lip. My fingers came back bloody.
Left arm limp at his side, Volger took another swing, catching me off guard. My head snapped to the side and I let the momentum of his punch carry me tot he ground. I land on my hands and snap-kicked at him, catching his broken arm. His scream filled the room as he clutched his arm. I came up swinging, three quick jabs into his stomach and he bent over. I grabbed the back of his head and brought my knee up into his nose. He let out a growl and knocked me away before reaching for my throat and wrapping his hands around it. His face was a mess, tears mixing with blood as he squeezed harder. I reached up and grab his head. A sharp twist and his neck snaps, his body fell limply to the ground.
“Eta Kooram Nah Smech!” The teacher yelled as he ran across the room to Volger and checking for a pulse. I crumbled to my knees, exhausted and terrified, hand over my mouth as I watched the teacher. The students stared numbly at me, even Nevva looked terrified, a bruise already forming on her cheek. She shook herself and crossed the room to me. After a moment’s hesitation she knelt and wrapped her arms around me. The other students stared at us and Volger.
“Ta ma duh,” the teacher swore. He took a deep breath and lifted his wrist to his mouth, speaking into the com there. “Security to room four, recreation building.”
My eyes widened. “Nevva.” I clung to her. “Don’t let them take me. I don’t want to be like Khia. I don’t know what I did. How it happened.” My voice sounded thick and panicked as I clung to her.
“We have a casualty,” the teacher continued.
“On our way.” It seemed like only seconds later two of the bigger guards strode in; together they lifted Volger and carried him from the room.
“River.” I snapped my head up at my name. Dr. Mathias stood in the doorway. I’d never even heard his voice outside of the testing rooms and yet he was standing there. “You’re dismissed. Go back to your room.”
“But,” I sputtered. “Volger, I, oh run-tse duh fwo-tzoo.”
“It’s taken care of,” he replied curtly. “Back to your room.” Nevva helped me up, supporting me and leading us to the door.
“You aren’t dismissed,” the teacher called after Nevva.
“I am staying with my friend,” Nevva answered through clenched teeth, turning to give the men looks that dared them to contradict her.
“Let her go.” Dr. Mathias laid a hand on the teacher’s shoulder. “We have enough to deal with.” He turned and faced the rest of the class. “I know that was a shock to you all. We will be taking each of you-”
The door shut behind us, cutting off the rest of his sentence. I didn’t want to know where he was taking the others. Nevva led the way back to the dorm, stopping halfway to hold my hair as I was sick in the bushes.