Chapter 1 - 2 weeks after
This is the truth about what happened. I wish we could have shared it with everyone sooner. Or that it had never happened. We didn’t want to risk putting this online or something and then the Council arresting us again or worse but… I guess now it doesn’t matter any more. It’s too late anyway. The Council are lying to you. They always have been. We were too dumb to realise or do anything about it before but maybe this will help people see what’s actually happening.
I’m not sure how to do this, how to write this like it makes sense. Everything feels so jumbled in my head. We spent too long in the Council prison. Time really dragged there. I guess we’ll split this into before and after everything happened? That way I don’t need to write about what happened until later. I don’t think I can yet.
This is when we decided to tell everyone what really happened so I guess it’s a good place to start? We didn’t know then how important this would be or that it would be our only chance to tell people what happened. This is just when Peggy first suggested it.
2 weeks after
“Hey! Can you pass a burger? Oh, my gods! It’s y’all! I didn’t even see you there!” Some kid exclaimed, clearly pretending he hadn’t come into the kitchen just to gawk at us.
I’d been dreading this all week but I knew it would happen sooner or later. Far too many children signed up to be trainees since our trial. Parents and orphanages were pushing kids into the service and hoping they’d be able to join the Space Corps too. They wanted them to be heroes just like us, to bring fame to their families and orphanages. The thought made me queasy.
“Yup. It’s us.” I answered flatly, trying to ignore the rising anxiety.
I glanced through the door of the small, off-duty kitchen we were sitting in. I didn’t even need the mods that were in my eyes to see how many other kids were staring at us through the door. That’s why we were sitting in there rather than out in the canteen with everyone else, at least we were more hidden there. It was the first time we’d been around other people since we’d been released back to the base and the sheer noise and staring was overwhelming. We’d been locked in our dorm before, tending to our wounds and trying to stop flinching every time we heard footsteps along the corridor outside. It was more difficult than it sounded, even now the sound of footsteps outside made my heart thump.
“You’re my heroes!” The kid was bouncing excitedly now, his eyes wide as he gazed at us in wonder.
My stomach rebelled at his words and I forced myself to take another bite of my burger so I didn’t need to answer him. The anxiety coursing through me and making my hands shake told me that I wouldn’t be able to answer him well. The burger caught in my throat and I swallowed desperately to push it down. I would not let myself puke in front of all the people watching through the door and waste this food.
The kid looked young, maybe four years younger than us, so twelve, and he was still rocking on his feet. He looked like one of those crazed fans we saw on recordings of concerts, like he was about to ask for our autographs or something. That would truly piss the Council off. In that moment, I didn’t care about the consequences, I almost wanted him to. The self destructive urge to annoy the Council and Councillor Harvey warred against my nausea but I still couldn’t bring myself to talk.
“We shouldn’t be, we’re traitors and war criminals.” Cas said simply, shoving another burger into his mouth.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Peggy flinch at his words. That wasn’t technically true. Well, I guess it is. I don’t know. It depends who you listen to. That wasn’t the official verdict but… It is still true.
“No, you’re heroes! The way you leapt into action and stole a ship then saved everyone? It was incredible! It’s what inspired me to sign up!” He was almost shouting, waving his arms as his eyes shined with excitement.
His volume was making even more people stare at us, they clustered around the door frame peeking in, and I couldn’t help but cringe when I noticed. My heart hammered in my chest as I fought to meet the eyes of the new trainees staring at us like they were waiting for us to do something.
I need them to leave. Him too. I thought to my crew, feeling icy panic rising within my chest but also a hint of gratitude towards the mods we’d had fitted into our skulls a few years back that allowed us to communicate through thought.
He was still staring at us adoringly, the grin fixed on his face as he waited for a response. I carefully placed my burger back on my plate before my hands could start trembling even worse and caught me to drop it. I tried to be kind but I wasn’t.
“It’s not all flying through space and saving people. We made bad decisions and people died or were badly injured because of them, we’ll have to live with that forever. Half the kids who signed up only did it because they don’t understand what we actually did and they think they’ll be doing the same in a couple of months. Bunch of idiots, at least the Drafts had no choice.”
It came out harsher and colder than I meant and immediately the kid’s face fell causing a wave of guilt to hit me in the stomach.
I felt like a monster. His shoulders slumped and he looked sadly at the floor.
I know I shouldn’t have been so cruel but honestly? Prison was less stressful than this. At least they mostly left us alone there. I justified to my crew but mostly to myself, trying to placate the almost overwhelming feeling of shame.
I get it and this is horrible but he is just a kid. Maybe we should be nicer? Cas thought at me.
“Sorry kid, it’s been a long day.” I tried to smile at him which he returned excitedly, seeming to immediately forget that I’d snapped at him.
“Also, we didn’t really sign up. We’re all technically Drafts so we didn’t have a choice.” Gem added in a light tone, breaking the tension with a smile.
“You’re Drafts?” The kid paused, looking thoughtful. “You still saved the world though! That’s amazing! Even my older brother signed up too!”
“Which one’s he?” Peggy asked kindly.
Peg, really? Cas teased, rolling his eyes. Little bit early in the term for you to be eyeing people up.
Peggy glared at him and tried to kick him under the table but couldn’t reach, catching Cory on the leg instead.
“He’s sitting alone out there, kinda looks like me but older?” The kid pointed vaguely through the door.
Cory looked up and scanned the canteen through the doorway, his nose twitching slightly.
“He’s the one that smells like cinnamon, parents probably bake.”
“My dad does! So it’s true? You’re modded? I thought that was just a rumour? It’s illegal, you know! What have you had done?” The kid looked around at us with a huge grin, his voice hushed as he leaned in conspiratorially.
I snorted. What happened to keeping our mods low profile?
If the council couldn’t find them no one can, we’re fine. Cas shot back.
“Kid, I’m sorry. We’re just trying to get some food before the assembly. Can you give us five minutes?” Cas asked, smiling kindly.
“Oh yeah… Sorry. I didn’t mean to annoy you. I just… I wanted you to know that not everyone thinks you’re war criminals or that you messed up or anything… Some of us know you did the right thing even though it was hard…”
The kid slunk out looking crestfallen.
“Ah, I feel like a dick. I know it wasn’t his fault but I’m just so done with the looks and whispers already.” Cas winced, rubbing the back of his neck.
“You are a dick, Cas. But it is good to know that not everyone hates us? Just most of them.” Peggy replied matter of factly as she checked her wrist monitor.
I rubbed my wrist around the clunky metal cuff and screen subconsciously. We’d only just gotten them back and it felt weird. We’d not worn them for the whole time we were in jail and even though we’d had them for almost sixteen years before that, it was hard to get used to again. It felt too much like a handcuff. I suppressed a shudder and dropped my wrist to my lap, not wanting to continue that thought.
“Maybe… he had a point.”
I looked at Peg, confusion written on my face. Her eyes were distant and moving constantly, as if she was trying hard to piece something together.
“What’s his point?” I asked finally.
She answered slowly, trying to make sense of her racing mind.
“They don’t know what happened. Not really. I mean, you’ve all read the Council bulletins, right?”
I nodded, the others doing the same.
We’d tried not to read them at first but we’d been stuck in our dorm with very little else to do for the last two weeks ever since we were released from the Council prison. They were… Well, I don’t need to tell you, you’ve probably read them.
“Exactly, they’re full of lies. What if we told them what happened? Like… the truth?”
Peggy’s eyes flittered around the room as if looking for signs Council cameras or spies listening in to us. My heart felt like it slowed as I tried to wrap my head around what she had asked.
“We could do that…” Cas said slowly, mulling the idea over.
I bit the inside of my lip. We could… The Council would hate it though. We could be arrested again, probably would be arrested again. I truly thought that was the worst they could do. I was dumb. Now I know better.
“We couldn’t publish it. Not properly.” I said quietly, my mind already made up.
“But what if we leaked it online… On the back channels? The Council would take it down but I think enough people would share it and read it. It could work.”
“It could.” I confirmed.
“And then at least people would know the truth. They’d know what the Council did… Things could be different.”
My heart leapt in fear as Peggy’s wrist monitor buzzed and she jumped, almost knocking over her drink before she read the message quickly with one hand placed on her racing heart.
“Oh no, Andy wants us in the main room before the assembly starts. I think he has something planned…”
I groaned. It was never good when the Director of our base had something planned but it was better than I was worried about. For a minute there I thought it was the Council issuing another warrant for our arrest.
“Right, let’s do this.” I ordered reluctantly, wanting to avoid what was about to happen but knowing that we couldn’t for long.
Everyone got up, Cas grabbing another burger and Gem grabbing a handful of chips for the walk.
“Pig.” I smirked at Cas, nudging him as he shoved half the burger into his mouth in one bite.
“What? I’ve only had three? Everyone knows intake day has the best food!” He managed around his mouthful.
I smiled at him, love and gratefulness that we were all still together racing through me. I missed them so much.
“We’ve been out of that Council prison for like two weeks and I still can’t get over how good the food here is. So much better than that mush we were living on. Has it always been this good?”
“Uhuh.” Cas grunted, the rest of his burger disappearing in his mouth.
I nudged him with my hip again, my hand brushing against his. I fought the urge to grab hold and not let go.
So, how many would you say think we’re evil like all the people who keep messaging us? Peggy asked us.
Eh, I don’t think they think we’re evil. Idiots maybe? Traitors definitely. Cory paused, looking around us. 50/50?
That is way too optimistic. 60/40? Gem replied her eyes scanning the canteen as we navigated the tables. I don’t think they think we’re idiots, look at how they’re staring. They absolutely think we’re bad people, maybe evil.
A kid turned in his chair to glare at us as we walked past, proving Gem’s point.
I smiled ruefully back at Gem. 80/20.
She laughed loudly, scaring some of the people sitting nearby.
Come on, let’s get to Andy before he does anything too terrible.
We travelled the rest of the way with Gem and Cas keeping up a steady stream of dumb jokes whilst the rest of us listened and avoided the servBots speeding between rooms, dropping off the new intake’s belongings into their various dorms.
Shortcut? Cas asked, stopping outside a service hatch and gesturing with his head.
Always. I replied, placing my hand over the pad to unlock it. You would think the Council would’ve had Andy change the codes by now?
Nah, you know he supports us. He wouldn’t change them, he knows how much we use them. And that we’d need them if anything happens again… Peggy replied.
I felt my heart squeeze at the thought of us having to do it again and my hands became slick with sweat. We wouldn’t be as lucky as we were that time. I knew that even then. We’d managed to convince the Council we made a mistake last time. They wouldn’t believe it again. They barely believed it this time. My hand dropped to my side and I squeezed it into a fist to stop it trembling. Every time we went through a hatch, I had flashbacks of sneaking through them towards our ship to save Irision, the weight of our decision to disregard the Council decision dragging us back. I breathed out a shaking breath, trying to keep my fear under control.
Everything will be fine, Arie. We won’t be ignored next time. Cas thought softly, his arm brushing purposefully against mine. Plus, I’d just hack another servBot to get the codes and then recode our chips.
He smiled at me reassuringly and I tried to smile back, wiping my hands on my dress uniform, trying to wipe off the oncoming panic attack too.
I looked around the faces of my crew, still noticeably haggard and exhausted after our experience with the Council and felt my face stretch into a true smile. At least we were together and back on base. The Council had no power there.
We’re together, nothing bad can happen. I thought dumbly to myself.
“No retreat.” I said, holding my fist out to the others.
They placed the corners of their knuckles against mine in a rough circle.
“No surrender!” They chorused back, their eyes shining with happiness.
“Okay, brace yourselves.” I warned as Peggy opened the hatch into the back of the Main Assembly Hall.