“It was way out of line, Forest. She had no right to do that.”
“You said yourself multiple times the cadets aren’t ready to face what the Scarax Galaxy is going to throw at us. Anna thought—” Forest began.
“So why the hell wasn’t I warned?”
“It was a last-minute thing. Anna decided it was a good simulation to add psychic soldiers to.”
“You didn’t even brief Carlisle. He looked like he’d been hit by a brick.”
“Joseph, you need to pull your head in,” Forest said as she rested back in her seat, clasped her hands together, and shot him a withering look. She’d been hearing him ranting for the past several minutes, and she’d just reached her limit.
He wasn’t done yet.
“You should’ve sent me a neural message, Lara.”
“I wasn’t involved in the direct planning of this. Anna decided it was fine.”
“And what if I had decided to reveal my identity?
“She accurately predicted that you wouldn’t.”
Joseph wanted something to hit. He sure as heck wasn’t going to hit Forest, so he just scrunched a hand into a fist and locked it against his leg. “Somebody could’ve died.”
“No one could have died, Joseph. It wasn’t real.”
“It damn well felt real,” he screamed. Right at Admiral Forest.
She leaned back. She placed a hand on her desk, and she rose. “Is this about yesterday?”
“You mean the psychic sprites that just appeared on Earth? Yeah, it’s about that. Why the hell wasn’t I warned?”
“I told you. Anna didn’t think it was—”
“Necessary? She’s just a counselor.” He unconsciously found himself parroting exactly what Sally had said. Though he had to admit, he couldn’t say it with nearly as much menace and confidence.
“Just a counselor?” Forest arched an eyebrow high. “She is one of the most powerful psychics we have. She’s someone who has been assisting you with your traumas, Joseph. She is likely the reason you have now attained the capacity to attack psychic sprites directly. Don’t you think you owe her more respect?”
He opened his mind to say Anna had nothing to do with that. He could remember how surprised she’d looked yesterday. But he closed his lips. If he kept getting angry, he’d just erupt again. Forest gave him a long leash. If he abused it, worst-case scenario, he’d be pulled right out of the cadet program.
He stopped. It was hard, but he started to force calming breaths down into his chest. It was a bad sign whenever he reverted to his human side and engaged in something as simple as breathing.
Lara sighed. “I understand that was a stressful situation. But it gave us valuable data. We now know how those students react. The combat class’s marks will be adjusted accordingly. Speaking of which, Joseph, you did too well in that exam. I’m not talking about when you tried to save the students. I’m talking about your accuracy and speed.”
Joseph’s jaw twitched.
“Is there something you aren’t telling me?”
His heart skipped a beat. All he could do was think of Sally. He suddenly got the impression that Forest was gonna ask prying questions about her, so he took the initiative. “If you are happy that this was just a simulation, then tell me why I couldn’t contact you?”
“That was a glitch,” she said simply. “We experienced a momentary communications blackout for a while. It didn’t last long.”
“Doesn’t that seem awfully convenient to you, Admiral?”
“It would have, if that simulation had been dangerous in the least. It wasn’t. Nobody died. There were a few injuries – the worst being a broken ankle. It was fixed within 10 minutes. Meanwhile, the students gained valuable information about how they operate under actual stress.”
There was so much he wanted to say to that. He felt another wave of anger crushing his stomach like a black hole. This one was even worse than the last. If he followed it, God knows what he’d start screaming. So he just closed his eyes and shoved his head back.
“Joseph, this is relatively unimportant. While those psychic sprites you fought in class today were controlled by us, need I remind you that last night,” she pointed a stiff finger in the direction of the city, “sprites from our enemies appeared, right at the heart of Earth?”
“No, you don’t need to remind me of that. I’ve been thinking of it all day.”
“We need to find out who sent them. And we need to find that hidden god before it’s too late. I’m becoming more certain that Carlisle is our man.”
Joseph couldn’t stop himself from making a face. Carlisle had been thrown today. You’d think a god would’ve enjoyed every single moment of that mess. Students screaming for their lives? It should’ve been the greatest entertainment he’d ever seen.
Instead, Carlisle had looked livid, flawed, and conflicted all at once.
Joseph didn’t bother to hide his expression.
“You are not privy to all the information we now have.”
“What do you have?” Joseph had to start acting professionally at some point, and now was as good a time as any.
“We believe he has been in contact with other Scarax assets in the Milky Way.”
That was pretty serious. Joseph straightened. “What do we do?”
“Keep an eye on him. A very close eye. Head to his office tonight. See what you can find.”
Joseph nodded. “Admiral—”
She opened her hand wide. “I promise you, if Anna runs any more simulations like that, I will ensure she tells you first.”
“… Right.” Joseph went to turn away, realizing the conversation was over.
“One more thing.”
“Who’s Sally Winters?”
Joseph stiffened. You’d be able to see it because his shoulders rippled against his shirt like a boulder thrown in a paddling pool. He could feel the admiral’s gaze on him.
He didn’t turn – not before he swallowed. “Just a cadet from class.”
“Just a cadet who, when push comes to shove, seems to have much better combat skills than she previously revealed. Keep an eye on her.”
“Sally?” He couldn’t hide his amusement.
Lara frowned. “She’s aced her past two exams. It isn’t impossible that she is a Scarax asset.”
“Sally’s not a Scarax asset.” He laughed again.
“Still, keep an eye on her. That’s an order.” Forest turned to go back to work. The conversation was clearly over.
Joseph felt the need to stand there and repeat – a thousand times – that Sally was nothing. She was no one. But… she’d saved him from that sprite yesterday. And she’d aced her past two combat exams. Hell, today, she’d delivered the miracle he’d so desperately needed. Still…
Sally wasn’t a risk. He knew that, deep down.
Sally Winters was just Sally Winters. He’d never known something with such certainty before and never would again.