9: A Message from the Past
In one, he raced out of the forest with a dark-haired figure in white, only for the trees to explode around them. In another, he stood alongside a Donaran woman with purple hair against a figure so powerful in size and frightening in shape that it made the Sophist paladins look like children in party costumes. In a third scenario, his efforts met the same inglorious fate as the girls’ own.
“So far, he has not succeeded.”
Phoenix shook her head; her face scrunched up in frustration “I won’t accept it! Perhaps there is no way mere initiates like us could succeed, but I will not believe that Chief Payne could fail. With you, Ms Thorbjorn, the al-Hakim brothers and the rest of his staff, he would surely succeed.”
Ms Shimomura closed her eyes with a sad smile. “Were we all here that day, then perhaps he might have done. You could even say that he reached out to us for that very reason. If history chose to repeat itself, I do not doubt he would find a way to best it. That night, however, Rembrandt Payne had few allies, and fewer choices.”
“Well, should history try to repeat itself, he will certainly have our full and unconditional support. We may not be officers yet, but by golly we shall do our best to make a difference!”
Emily’s attention drifted to the screens, continuing to play out the hopes and failures of Rembrandt Payne and her own Second Class peers. Theseus Armstrong clashed blades with one of the Sophist paladins; Denny Odette flung herself through the chaos with a young child clinging to her back; Chris Shaw waved around that magic pen of his while Lance Algar hurried refugees through the catacombs.
The catacombs. Her home. And there was Alonie Kent — Alonie Adel — running along the underground tunnels, a look of pain and desperation on her face as she fled from the creeping, slithering shadows, with their innumerous eyes and teeth like spears.
Emily studied her crystal with a frown. Eight shards out of a total twelve. After acing the last two exams, she had tripped at the final hurdle. But at least she wasn’t alone.
“I would have preferred more defined goals,” said Phoenix, as the four girls returned to the changing room. Ms Shimomura had awarded her a shard for her leadership skills, but nothing more.
“One mark between the four of us is more than some people got,” offered Katrina, the eternal optimist. “It’s not like there was an actual solution to the problem.”
“And that, Katrina, is what bothers me!” Even with the girls entering their separate cubicles, Phoenix continued the conversation. “Commander Shimomura said this was all about ‘the experience’, but I think it’s more than that.”
“Well, it kinda helps put some things in context,” said Kat. “Do you think those explosions at the end had anything to do with that crashed ship?”
“My thoughts exactly,” said Phoenix. “It is a shame we didn’t have chance to find out who was responsible. I would have liked to have asked them why they kept the crash site a secret, and why they allowed the Aristocracy to get away with attempted genocide!”
It’s a long story, Phoe.