Joseph had saved her. He hadn’t needed to. She could have dealt with that herself. That wasn’t what bothered her now, wasn’t what drew her attention to every unsettled beat of her heart. Everything she knew about him suggested he shouldn’t have done that.
He’d jeopardized his identity for her….
It was those thoughts that allowed Sally to walk through the corridors to her next class.
Everyone was already there. She strode in the door to a tide of hateful gazes.
She didn’t pay any attention to it. She sat at the back of the class. The whole while, people muttered at her under their breaths. Jerry was up front. He had not received any punishment.
God knows what he’d told that lieutenant who’d walked in to break up the fight. Likely that she’d caused the entire thing.
She wasn’t surprised when she got a message on her wrist device saying that she would have to report to a disciplinary meeting.
She noted it, her gaze sliding over the text. Then she continued to stare forward, her mind more focused than it had been in years.
Despite the fact Sally was technically alone, she didn’t feel that way. How could she when she had millions of minds within her?
It was different though, wasn’t it? Different having someone in the outside world. Having someone real. Having somebody who, of their own volition, chose to stay with you, no matter what.
Wait. Those three words were wrong. Joseph had no clue who Sally was. For Sally had prevented him from ever actively being suspicious of her. The second he found out she was the Queen… he wouldn’t stick with her no matter what. He’d fight her.
So she stared at her hands.
It was just as a cadet reached in and jostled her hard. She didn’t look at the guy.
She knew her life. She understood her mission. It was that – keeping her mission prime in her mind – that had managed to get her through all of these countless years.
She existed to defeat the King, and in doing so, the Queen would be broken down.
None of this… would matter. So she had to put it all in context.
The class ended. She waited until everyone was gone. They were still in the corridors. She could feel them, their minds like sharpening knives.
She used the back exit. She charted a path away from E Club’s angry psyches.
Despite her best efforts, she eventually felt a mind approaching her. It was one of the few that wasn’t directly aggressive.
It was Carlisle.
He cleared his throat and stopped behind her. “Cadet—”
“I’m fine, Lieutenant.”
“I heard about what happened—”
“I suggest you do not associate with me, Lieutenant Carlisle. E Club has members throughout all the years of the Academy.”
“What are you saying? Are they going to spy on me? Look, whatever this mess is—”
“Just keep your head down, Lieutenant,” she said as she shifted past.
Carlisle didn’t stop her.
His heart beat harder, though. She imagined a man like Carlisle never felt that much direct compassion. He couldn’t – it didn’t come as part of his job. But a weak ray of it was breaking through his otherwise stony expression now.
She ignored it and walked past.
She’d removed that Scarax device from his office yesterday. It wouldn’t save him, though.
Not when Anna was targeting him. Nothing would.
Sally continued to stride the halls. She had to get to class. There was very little point. It was engineering. She didn’t require the Coalition’s archaic technical knowledge. She also….
The Queen could withstand anything and everything. You often can when you have a grand goal in mind.
If you set your heart on it, you can experience untold horrors as long as you are promised one day that you’ll finally achieve it.
But something had happened today, and it had unsettled Sally more than she’d ever thought possible.
It wasn’t Jerry’s snide words.
She lifted her hand again. Joseph had come to her aid. And he….
Sally looked up to see none other than Joseph. He smelt of power. He must’ve just completed some mission. He was probably still involved in it. But rather than finish it, he just stood there in the corridor, staring at her.
Busy officers walked past. They thankfully had nothing to do with E Club, so they didn’t bother either of them.
That meant for about a minute, Joseph and Sally could stand there, staring at each other down the corridor, not doing anything and not fighting anyone.
Joseph made the first move. He inclined his head to the side. There was a small viewing platform with a brilliant set of windows that offered a beautiful view of the grounds below.
She silently walked over to them.
Her heart beat a little harder.
Joseph sat down on the couch, letting his legs fall out from underneath him.
He looked at her.
Sally didn’t want to believe she was uncomfortable. Her heart raced, nonetheless.
She sat down.
Joseph leaned forward, crunched his elbows over his knees, peaked his eyebrows, and just looked at her for a few seconds.
Sally had faced so much in her millions of lives, but still… this was….
“I won’t let it happen again,” he said.
Joseph the cadet couldn’t promise that. Joseph the lieutenant could.
He had no clue what he was up against, though.
He looked down at his hands. Then he glanced across at the windows. “Sorry.”
He grabbed his jaw, sliding his fingers over it. “Not thinking straight.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look… I’ve had… look… I’ve got a history. Sometimes… I forget other people have a history too.” He looked up at her sharply.
She could face anything, but that gaze made her quickly turn and lock her stare on her shoes.
“You don’t have to tell me why Jerry’s words triggered you back there. And I’ve got no right to demand. I’m just… sorry.”
“There is nothing you have to apologize for.”
“Yeah. That’s not true, though, is it? I used to be exactly like them.” He gestured forward.
A class had just ended. Cadets were pushing out across the grounds. And yeah, they could see Jerry from here. He was in a group of other cadets. Sally could feel his mind. It was manic.
Joseph had sharp eyes, and Sally knew that he too picked up Jerry’s expression. He snorted. “Frigging idiots.”
“They’re being manipulated,” she said quietly.
He looked at her from underneath his eyebrows again. “What?”
She longed to tell him the truth. This was all down to Anna. But… she had to hold back. Every single time she wanted to reach out to Joseph, she had to frigging hold back. She needed all of her power for the King.
That was her destiny, and she would carry it through.
She looked away. “I just… something isn’t right. They seem like they’ve snapped. We are almost at war. What if someone is deliberately influencing them? It’s just an assumption.”
He didn’t tell her it was a paranoid one. He rubbed his brow. “Maybe you have a point. It’s just something else to add to this growing mess.” He shoved his hands in hard, really pinching his brow now until he could’ve ripped it from his face.
Sally wanted to reach out, grab his hand, and push it down.
He dropped his fingers himself. “Look, Sally, if you ever need to, just call me. No matter what I’m doing, I’ll come.”
She had to face him for this. Her gaze shifted back and forth across his eyes. “No matter what you’re doing?” All the emphasis was on no matter what. Because she knew the importance of every mission he went on when he wasn’t pretending to be a cadet.
He faced her. He leaned back, locking his hands behind him. Putting some distance between their gazes only made his more intense, not less so. “Yeah,” he said with all confidence and certainty, “no matter what I’m doing.”
They had a moment.
She wanted it to last.
It was… different from most of Layra’s other lives. She forgot she was waiting for the King. She forgot she was waiting for anything. She was just… with Joseph.
Until she wasn’t.
He got another neural comms.
Sally was the first to stand. “I should probably get to class. You look like you’re distracted.”
He was distracted.
Forest wanted to see him again.
She went to turn.
He caught up with her. “I’ll be your partner from now on,” he said directly.
Her heart shook, heat spreading up her chest and over her throat, zigzagging into her lips before it pushed down into her trembling stomach. She had no clue what he meant.
He still wasn’t paying attention. His gaze unfocused as he spoke to Forest again.
He finally blinked and refocused on her. “Combat class, psychic defense class – whatever you need. I’ll be your partner from now on. Someone’s got to stick by your side.” With that, he had to walk away.
She just stood there.
Why walk? Why move? It would simply distract her from this….
She turned and stared at the grounds beyond.
Two parts of her mind started to go to war. There was the knowledge that she existed solely to destroy the King, and….
She couldn’t afford distractions. But distractions create themselves.
Yet she knew one thing, no matter how hard her heart beat, it wouldn’t last. Nothing could. The Scarax Galaxy was coming, and the Observer out there would not wait forever.