Classes were over. So she walked the halls.
While some students looked bored, the rest– who were all associated with E Club – were precisely the opposite. The numberof unkind mutters increased. Heck, most of them didn’t bother muttering. Theyberated her at full volume for anyone to hear.
It was brazen, but no one stopped them.Some teachers looked confused, but they were too hurried to stop and deal withthis. Others… they knew Sally. It was clear they agreed.
Internally, Sally sighed. To think, all ofthis energy they were focusing on her could be focused on attempting to savethemselves in their last few hours or days. Instead? It was easier to run someonethey detested off their turf.
But Sally had absolutely no intention ofbeing run off the Academy grounds. Not today.
You’d think she’d avoid E Club. She couldn’t.It didn’t take long to notice their energy had changed demonstrably since thesimulation. They weren’t nervous. They had a new purpose.
Though Sally didn’t like to read minds, notunless she had to, she caught several thoughts. They all focused on the samething. Special training from Anna.
It seemed Anna was only becoming more aggressive.What exactly did this special training entail? Did she drive a hole rightthrough the center of each cadet’s mind so the next time they encountered apsychic sprite, they would fall for it like butter in front of a blowtorch?
Sally longed to do one thing. One simplebut final act. She could click her fingers, call on the Hendari crystals, andmake all of this go away. In one sweet, complete moment, she could get rid ofAnna. She could even fix the damage to the cadets’ minds. The cost would be fartoo high.
“What are you doing, Cadet?” somebodysnarled from behind her.
It was Carlisle. There was a note of stressin his voice. It had been there ever since the test this morning.
It was very clear he hadn’t had a clue whatwas going on. And when Anna had run the test, it was just as clear he hadn’thad the authority to be angry at her. So, like all good aggressive fools, hewas going to transfer that ire onto Sally, wasn’t he?
Though his expression was hardly friendly,she had to admit she was wrong. “Shouldn’t you just go back to your room,Cadet?” he sighed. “The vibe around here… isn’t particularly friendly towardyou.”
So he’d noticed, then? He hadn’t doneanything about it, though. Several E Club cadets strode past. They no longerout-right heckled her, but their expressions said it all, and they didn’tbother to hide from Carlisle.
“Stop loitering. Go do something usefulwith your lives,” Carlisle snapped.
Mostly, the cadets respected Carlisle.Unlike a lot of the other teachers, he had plenty of experience. He’d workedout on the Rim for years. He’d accepted a position at the Academy in the hopessome of that experience could rub off on everybody else when they needed itmost.
Now the cadets… they looked at him like hewas just as hateful as Sally. She arched an eyebrow. Carlisle, on the otherhand, bristled. The cadets strode past and got down the corridor too fast forhim to say anything.
“Cadet, just head back to your room,” hesighed at her again.
“Their attention doesn’t bother me,” shesaid evenly and honestly.
Carlisle had turned around. Maybe he wasattempting to control his expression, but he didn’t do it quickly enough.Snapping his head back to her, a frown etched deeply across his lips. “And whyis that? Don’t you respect what your fellow peers think?”
“This has nothing to do with a lack ofrespect. You might hate somebody, but usually, you’re still affected by socialrejection,” she said honestly. It wasn’t as if she was going to hide what theywere doing to her. It was plain as day. Everybody should be able to see she wasnow the number one pariah of the Academy.
Sure enough, Carlisle stretched hisshoulders uncomfortably. “They’re just—”
“Engaging in fantasies. They can controltheir behavior now, and that’s it. They’re attempting to run the weaker soldierfrom their pack before the thing they don’t have a hope to control – the war –arrives at their doorstep.”
“Stop speaking as if you know things, Cadet—”
“How should one speak, then?”
As Sally taught Carlisle, not that he wouldthink of it that way as he was likely attempting one last time to teach hersome all-important lesson about how to be an appropriate cadet, Sally feltsomething. It was in the office behind him. His office, to be precise.
There was a surge of energy. It was barelydetectable. She only picked it up because it had a very specific signature.
“Cadet, are you paying attention to me? Whyare you staring at my door?” Carlisle huffed. “You might like to think that you’vehad combat experience—”
Someone or something had just transportedinto Carlisle’s room. And they left something behind.
It happened quickly.
There was no explosion, though Sally wasready for one.
Whatever that had been… it had likely beensomeone planting evidence.
“As someone who’s actually seen combatexperience, you don’t go bragging about it.”
“Take it from somebody who has a history ofhaving no friends,” she said as she looked right up into Carlisle’s eyes, “whena situation becomes fractured on the edge of war, you never know who to trust.”With that, she turned swiftly on her foot and walked away.
She didn’t influence Carlisle directly, butshe wanted him to follow her.
Which is precisely what he did.
“Sally, what was that? Cadet, I asked youto stop.”
Sally got far enough away from his roomthat she stopped. She turned.
“You need to start trusting the Coalitionand your fellow cadets.”
“Never trust the wrong person,” she saidevenly.
“None of the cadets would ever—”
More cadets walked past. One of them wasnone other than Jerry. The look in his eyes… any fool would be able to tellthat it was a mix of victory, anger, and plain old violence.
She could feel something dripping off hismind. It wasn’t necessarily a psychic wound. Instead it was an implantedemotion. It had to have come from Anna. Its sheer brutality could’ve burntthrough steel.
Carlisle turned on his foot slowly. He wasno fool. He might not be able to register the difference in Jerry’s psyche, buthe sure as heck could see his expression. “Is there something I can help youwith, Cadet?”
“Yeah, there is. The exam. It was unfair.You handed it to Sally, didn’t you? What? Felt sorry for her?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,”Carlisle snarled. He stretched his back up, pushed his shoulders out, angledhis chin, and did a good job of looking like a statue that was about to have ashowdown with a feather. “Remember who you’re talking to, Cadet. Drop the tone.”
“No, I’m not dropping anything. It’s clearyou have a special relationship with Sally, just as it’s clear that you gaveher hints about the exam beforehand. Does anyone actually think someone likeher would ever be able to take down a Barbarian warrior that quick? It was thesame with the holographic simulation. But Anna stuffed up your plans, didn’tshe? Because she can tell what you can’t. Sally is a fraud.”
“Cadet,” Carlisle growled.
Sally walked away.
“I’m talking to you, Sally Winters,” Jerrysnarled.
“Incorrect. You’re berating me and wastingmy time. Which I will have no part in.”
Carlisle let her go. He clearly had hishands full.
Sally had something to do, anyway.
There was every reason for her not to getinvolved. Carlisle was hardly her greatest friend. But at the same time, shewas certain he’d just been set up.
His office still hadn’t exploded, and shecould still detect whatever Scarax device had been transported within.Presumably it was planted evidence for the Academy to find. When they found it,Carlisle would be pinned as the hidden god amongst their ranks.
Anna would be behind this.
Sally might not be able to walk straight upto Anna, look her in the eyes, and reveal her considerable, unmatched psychicskills, but at least she could do this.
She walked around the halls until shereached a set of stairs. There was no one on it. They were very rarely used.There were scanners everywhere, though.
It meant nothing to Sally.
She clicked her fingers.
Once was all it took.
No matter where her Hendari crystals were,she was always connected to them remotely. She felt a burst of their powerchase around her. It was invigorating. Whenever she connected to them, it wouldpush away all of the stresses of life. It would remind her that ultimatelyevery single defeat was worth it. For victory would come.
Sally transported straight to Carlisle’sroom.
Her mind had already assessed it before shearrived. There was no chance she’d appear inside his desk or some other pieceof furniture. She knew exactly what she was doing.
She touched down softly, her feet hoveringfor a few seconds until her boots crunched down on the tall pile of the bluecarpet. She saw the device.
Others would not have been able to detectit so readily. It had a strong psychic energy that suggested it was part of apsychic generator.
It was under his desk, shielded andcloaked.
She briefly stared at Carlisle’s things.His desk was just as neat and ordered as his classes. He had one window abovehis chair. Swiveling her head, she partook of the view.
It wasn’t fantastic. Carlisle wasn’t anadmiral. But regardless of her run-ins with him, he was a good soldier. And hedidn’t deserve to be dragged under by the Scarax Galaxy’s games, even iffoolish students like Jerry didn’t see that.
She wasted no more time. She walked over tothe desk, got onto one knee, located the device, and ripped it off.
It sparked wildly in her hand, but shecontained the damage. All it took were several thoughts. She could connect toevery single spark, ensuring they jolted back in on themselves and didn’tcrackle down to the carpet to leave any obvious burns.
Closing her eyes, she connected to thedevice.
It had no useful information. She wascorrect, though, and it was part of a psychic generator. That was it.Presumably, that would be all the Academy would require. It would be evidenceenough to lock Carlisle away forever.
She darted her head up. She could hearCarlisle coming. She could feel his mind, too. That conversation with Jerry hadthrown him. If it had been Sally, she would’ve given Jerry detention, butclearly Carlisle wasn’t confident enough to do that. He could see the writingon the wall. Jerry practically controlled the E Club, and if Carlisle actedagainst him, the E Club would turn on Carlisle.
“Students are harder than the damn Rim,”Carlisle muttered to himself as he opened the door.
Sally transported. He didn’t see her, evenas she disappeared back into the darkness and he took a step into the room.
He’d never know what she’d done for him,either. Such was the fact of someone who could never reveal themselves.
But the time for Sally to stay hidden wasrapidly disappearing. Like it or not, one of these days, she would have to dragherself into the light.