The air was stale, and the room cold and blindingly bright. Max had been in here for what felt like an eternity. He was undergoing the interrogation trial every kid took before joining the real combat training. This might’ve been considered unusually cruel and harsh training to impose on children in any other dimension. Long hours of sitting alone in a blank white windowless room, the makers of the room had been very careful in their construction to make sure that there was no pattern to be found on any wall, painstakingly sanding down any rough drops of hardened paint to make the walls completely flat. The room itself was mind-numbing. Then, on top of that, Max had to endure short periods of pain followed by an interrogator’s questions. The pain was administered by gas through the vents, sending the entire body convulsing as it overloaded the muscles with contractions. The questions asked were to reveal the names of his soon-to-be squad. If he revealed any of them, they’d all end up doing the trial over again.
But Max had been counting since the beginning of the trial. He knew he wouldn’t be able to stand up against the pain and boredom unless he did something to distance himself. He was at about twenty-five hundred thousand now, which meant he’d been in here for about three days, they didn’t give any food or water during the trial so Max knew he was nearing his limit. The nutrient shot he’d taken at the beginning would only hold his body for about three days so that meant the trial had to be done soon.
Assuming they hadn’t forgotten about him.
Max chased the thought away. It wouldn’t do him any good to worry about things that weren’t in his control. Though the nagging feeling that always came when something could go wrong continued to bother him.
Some twenty-thousand seconds later, Max had lost count during one of the bouts of pain, the invisible door slid open. Max was greeted by several unfamiliar silhouettes as his eyes were still adjusted to the light from the interrogation room. Groggily Max attempted to rise, but due to the overstimulation of his muscles every half hour, he merely stumbled and slid down the side of the wall.
At the nod of the lead silhouette, two kids quickly entered the room and hoisted Max onto their shoulders. Max tried to thank them but all that came out was a hoarse cough that further racked his weakened body and made carrying his dead weight that much more difficult. One of the kids muttered something under his breath.
“How are you even still alive?”
Max didn’t have time to think about that question as he blacked out shortly thereafter.
This kid was definitely it, thought Lorad, commander of Cardinal Company. He’d probably been the only one who saw Max’s potential at the quarterly banquet held for new recruits to show off their skills. The new blood would then get invitations from different companies allowing them to join. As Max was an Orph, someone who was sold by their parents to the Academy for money, most other Privi commanders didn’t even look at him, unless he had something that they wanted. Not that it made a difference in Cardinal. They were a band of misfits and leftovers. They accepted any and all willing to join them and rejected only those who’d seek their exploitation. Because of the open policy, they did have a problem with traitors occasionally. But that problem had been solved by one of their new recruits as well, so it was no real loss in the end.
Lorad chuckled at the year-old memories. That sharpshooter entered Cardinal like a demo charge in a weapons depot. He’d made almost as big of a bang as their youngest squad leader. This was going to be a fun year, he thought, assuming they survived it.