We gathered in the cafeteria, waiting for our superiors to arrive with further instructions as rain poured outside.  It was almost the end of our training period.  Team building exercises completed and an extended combat simulation as the final test, I couldn’t decide whether to be excited or nervous.

            Everyone else fidgeted as much as I did – looked like I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.  Aside from Celeste, who sat beside me with a straight back and a calm demeanor.  Her dark blue eyes roamed the room as if she was nothing more than an observer.

            “Aren’t you nervous?” I asked.

            “Not really,” she replied with a smug grin.

            “Why not?”

            Celeste’s gaze flitted over everyone before she leaned over.  “Can you keep a secret?”

            My heart stopped for a moment.  A small instance of panic made me think she’d somehow figured out the condition I was hiding.

            “Fine by me,” I replied nervously, telling myself it was impossible for her to know.  She wouldn’t have asked that if she knew already.

            She leaned closer, lowering her voice so only I could hear.  “Thsikamkejwhshdonfmaljddowiehfanks.”  Celeste straightened up, waiting for my response.

            “I see,” I responded with a blank stare.

            She seemed puzzled by my reply.  Most people were when I responded like that.

            “Recruits!” called Sergeant Gil.  We immediately stood at attention, all conversations halted.

            “This is hwoedmsjauhtedsmlents will work!” he continued.  Sergeant Gil continued his explanation as a couple of people walked among the crowd with a bag in their hands.

            Each recruit pulled a card from the bag, though I couldn’t understand at all the reason.  Sergeant Gil had probably said it already, but my condition had, naturally, acted up for most of his speech.  The rain outside didn’t help.

            When my turn came, I plucked out a card.  On it was displayed a number: 26.

            My grip on the card tightened.  I could even see the flimsy piece of paper trembling in my grasp.

            Why a number?  Was this who I was supposed to be now?  Illagu was supposed to be different than the System.  I liked being Dax!

            “As you were,” called the drill sergeant.  “Getjedsoamjwodseammates,” he finished as he walked away from the cafeteria.

            “Lucky us!” Celeste exclaimed, peering over my shoulder.  “We're on the same team!”

            A quick peek at her card showed that she also had the number 26 printed on it.  I sighed in relief.  Thank goodness it wasn’t what I thought!

            “Yeah,” I replied.  “I was really worried about doing this final test with complete strangers.”

            Celeste waved someone over who held up another card with the same number.

            “Nice to meet you, ladies,” he said with a nod.  “My name’s Anthony.  Let’s see if we can kill some bytes.”

            “What?!” I exclaimed.

            “It’s what we’re for, isn’t it?” Anthony replied with a grin.  “Ikneowherfneksdmhejfdm, but the whole point of this to wipe out the System.”

            Celeste glanced at me with a disbelieving look while I simply stared at Anthony, completely speechless.  He clearly had no idea where I’d come from.

            “You may be in the wrong place,” Celeste said calmly.

            “What do you mean?”

            “The Illagwen military is a defense.  Therjekldmskhfrjmdknshssrjfkmed.”

            Anthony rolled his eyes.  “Youtejdfmfmdjhsenor ordered you to attack the System, you wouldn’t do it?”

            I heard Celeste mutter something in response.

            “The System’s not a threat,” I said.  “She’s not interested in going beyond her walls.”

            Anthony narrowed his eyes at me, causing chills to run down my spine.  “She?  I’ve only heard bytes call it that.”

            “I…I, um, I’m a…former byte,” I managed to reply as I took a step back.

            He scoffed, turning his attention to Celeste.  For some reason, Anthony deciding to ignore me was the greatest relief.

To be continued…

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