Energia, Web Novel

Chapter 19: A Quiet Neighbor

Energia: Titans of Verità
Table of Contents (For Catching Up)

Anna wanted to head straight into the field. To strap herself into an E-Suit, head out of the city, kill some monsters, and return to boast over her triumphant battles over a drink and a good meal. Part of her was all business; the quicker she got to work, the quicker she’d get promoted and take what she wanted. But the thought of the thrill, the rush an E-Suit, filled her heart with an insatiable, childish yearning!

Unfortunately, that was still a while to come. She’d still have to wait a while before getting her own E-Suit, let alone fighting aliens. For now, she’d have to survive a far more challenging effort: initiation. The thought twisted her stomach into knots. Just get it over with. She thought. It shouldn’t take that long anyway.

Melcroft led her through Order HQ, moving towards the eastern wing at a brisk but casual pace. They passed through the dining hall, where hundreds of men and women, some still in their E-Suits, were enjoying their meals. In the following hallway, Anna noticed a door labeled ‘Armory’ with a blue holographic sign, and a clearly more important room: the ‘E-Suit Hall’. She stared at them both like a starving wolf.

They continued on for another twenty minutes, passing by various facilities that Anna hadn’t heard of before. These included the training hall, a room much like the arenas that she had been in during the entrance exams, a language center, in which several Operatives from the various Sectors were studying foreign speech, and most surprising to her: the holding cells. It was common knowledge that Order arrested people. But she didn’t think that they held them here.

Finally, they turned off from the main path and into a short passage that split in either direction. Both sides were labeled with glowing blue signs which portrayed simple stick-figure drawings of a man and woman. Melcroft pointed towards the left, the woman’s side. “Your dorm is that way.” She explained. “Take a bed, unpack your things and meet the others in the dining hall. All the other new recruits should have a table already.” The woman put a hand on her shoulder and smiled. “Don’t take too long, kid! We’ve got a busy day ahead!” With that, she turned and went back the way she came, chuckling to herself.

Anna frowned after her. What was that woman thinking this time? She shrugged and made her way down the hall towards the girl’s dorms. I’m probably just imagining things.

She pushed through a door at the end of the hall, entering a massive room unlike any of the others she’d seen thus far. Large, comfortable beds filled the entire room, spaced out evenly with a desk on one side and a small metal closet on the other. A set of spiral stairs led upwards to another floor, which was a nigh exact replica of the first. A few girls were scattered throughout the room, lying back and relaxing or brushing past her on their way out.

In contrast to the cold, black steel floors of the other rooms, this one had a soft and smooth brown rug. Anna chuckled at the welcome mat, which read “Unless you want to clean the carpet yourself, take your damn shoes off!”; she made a note to find out who put that there and congratulate them. A long row of cubbies filled with various shoes lined the wall beside the entrance, glowing blue with names in various languages. Though part of her wanted to find out if the mat’s words had any meaning to them, she decided not to poke a potential bear and oblige it. After finding a cubby without a name attached to it, she filled the space with her boots and quickly typed her own name into the holographic plaque below it. When she finished, the plaque asked for her thumbprint. Once she had given it, a blue, translucent wall slid down and closed the cubby.

A shield? Anna thought, scowling at the barrier in confusion. O-kay. That seems like a bit much.

A trio of girls passed behind her as she worked, chatting away casually and loudly. Their voices quickly dropped as they passed, but she still heard them as if they were shouting. “Isn’t that the new girl?” one whispered. “The one that nearly got arrested before the test?”

“I heard she got attacked during the first exam!” another said. “Something about a bunch of weirdos on the train? Apparently, she broke their ribs and left them in the street!”

“That’s crazy!” a third gasped. “What do you have to do to get guys like that after you? Do you think she robbed them or something? Maybe they wanted payback!”

“Maybe.” The first nodded as they made their way out the door. “We’d better keep an eye on our stuff tonight!”

Anna felt anger swell in her chest. She fought the urge to turn around and yell at them, to tell them that they had no clue what she went through to get here. But she knew that would be a fruitless effort. Don’t make enemies on your first day. She told herself. Just wait. You’ll prove them wrong!

Eager to take her mind off of things, Anna started down the room, searching for an empty space to settle down. The foot of each bed was marked with another holographic plaque, only a few of which were in a language that Anna could read. Each one was ornately decorated with the owner’s personal belongings. Some were simplistic and pleasant. Others were bright, colorful and painful on the eyes. She immediately ruled out any spaces within range of those. Unfortunately, that ruled out the entire first floor.

The second floor was sparser than the first. Only a few of the living spaces had been taken, leaving plenty of spaces in-between them empty. Thankfully, none of them were as bright or annoying as the beds below. Also, unlike the first floor, it was devoid of other people.

Aside from one. Near the far end of the room, pressed against the wall, a woman in a dark red dress sat on a plain bed in a mostly empty space. She had short, dark hair, an unruly mop that covered her pale brow. It seemed that she had just finished dressing, as she slid into a pair of thigh-high black boots. Small scars lined her arms, which she quickly concealed with a black leather jacket.

For a moment, Anna was prepared to forget about her. But when the woman turned and she saw her eyes, she froze in place. They were a dark crystal blue, surrounded almost completely by dark, sleepless rings. Her gaze was distant as if she were looking at something on the other side of Verità. Not a single emotion could be found on her beautiful features.

The woman stood up, yawned, and darted towards the stairs. Anna waved at her nervously as she passed, but she didn’t seem to notice. She passed Anna by practically without a sound, as if she were nothing more than a shadow. One brief moment later, she was gone, leaving Anna alone.

I’ve seen her before. Anna realized. But where? She shrugged. She’d ask her later. There was no way the woman could avoid her forever.

Anna scanned the woman’s space as she passed. Not that there was much to see. Aside from a small makeup kit on the desk, there wasn’t anything to see. The space was tidy and well-kept to the point of being boring. The nameplate at the foot of the bed was written in Japanese. She decided to translate it later.

Remembering that she was on a schedule, Anna tossed her things on an empty space near the mystery woman’s and quickly filled out the nameplate. She half suspected that she’d need to put another thumbprint in to turn her space into a prison cell. When it didn’t, she almost felt disappointed. It would’ve been comforting to have a barrier surrounding something more valuable than her shoes. She imagined herself rolling over in bed and brushing against the barrier. When she remembered that doing so would send fifty thousand volts through her system, she decided that it was probably for the best.

Well. Anna thought as she took in her new living space. In terms of a new home, this isn’t so bad! She set her suitcase on the bed with a soft, satisfying thump. Then, smiling with anticipation, she bolted back down the stairs, out the door, and towards the dining hall.

******

It didn’t take her long to find the new recruits. They were so ordinary that, in a room filled with the humming and glow of E-Suits, they were extraordinary. Even if that weren’t the case, they stuck out like a rose in a desert. Mostly because Tommy was standing on top of the table, waving his arms like a child and shouting “New folks! Get over here!” at the top of his lungs. The others, all but save one, were averting their gaze from him as if trying to pretend they weren’t affiliated.

His eyes lit up when he saw her. “Well, I’ll be damned! She’s alive! Hey, Ironchase! Over here!”

Hooray. She thought. He passed. Even though she rolled her eyes, Anna couldn’t hide the smile on her face. It was comforting to see a somewhat familiar, friendly face.

The recruit’s table was less crowded than Anna had expected. She had thought that there’d be at least a dozen people. Instead, she only found half of that number sitting there, including herself. More surprising yet, she recognized all but two of them.

On the other side of the table, almost hidden behind Tommy’s burly legs, sat a wincing Eitan. He had his face in his hands, from which she could hear a quiet sigh whenever Tommy shouted. Beside him sat Alex, who stared at Tommy with a more confused than uncomfortable expression. When he saw her approach, he immediately looked away. What’s his deal?

The two newcomers quickly caught her eye. One was a tall, chiseled black man with dark, messy hair and piercing onyx eyes, dressed in blue jeans and a tight white v-neck. His jaw seemed strong enough to shatter stone. He gave her a broad smile and a small nod when he noticed her looking at him.

The other was a short woman with long blond hair, soft emerald eyes, and a face so pale that Anna briefly thought she was dead. Compared to the new man, she almost looked like a doll, especially with her bright yellow dress adorned with red flowers. Beneath the table, her twig-like leg bounced up and down quickly and erratically. She scanned Anna up and down, then gave a broad, toothy grin. Anna shuddered; she could already tell that this woman was going to be trouble.

Tommy jumped down from the tabletop and set himself down beside Alex. “Is that everyone?” he asked, looking around the table.

“How should we know?” Eitan asked. “Maybe everyone else passed too!”

Alex shook his head. “Doubtful. No others seemed strong like us.”

“Glad to see you haven’t lost your confidence!” Tommy chuckled, then leaned over the table towards the two newcomers. “So, what’re your stories? I don’t recognize either of you two from the test.”

“That’s because I didn’t take it.” Said the giant. Anna couldn’t recognize his accent. But she was immediately fond of his deep, smooth voice. “I took the test on the Mars colony. They had me transferred here because they were… uh… How did they put it again?” he looked to the doll-like woman.

“Understaffed?” she offered. “Short-handed? Woefully unprepared for a colony of this scale with this many people from different countries?” her voice was high and loud, with an undeniably Irish accent. Just hearing her voice gave Anna a headache.

“That about sums it up.” Nodded the giant. He offered a massive hand to them. “Name’s Sal. Mars colony, born and raised. Pleased to meet ya.”

“Cara, also from Mars!” the Irish woman was loud, even managing to break through the sound of other conversations, eating and E-Suits. She stretched out a hand to Anna, shoving Sal’s aside. “But if we’re gonna be friends, you can call me Boss! Or Chief! Or-”

“Got it!” Anna said quickly, taking her hand. “Anna Ironchase. Nice to meet you.”

“Tommy Decker!” the American eagerly leaped in, pulling Eitan and Alex along with him. “The little guy is… uh? What was your name again?”

“Eitan Avidan!” he growled, pulling himself free from his grasp. “Where’d you pull ‘the little guy’ from?”

“You know why!” Tommy chuckled, ignoring Eitan’s murderous glare. “Mr. tall and stoic over here is… uh… the Russian?”

“Alexander Frolov.” Alex sighed.

“That was it! Anyways, we’re all the new Veritàn operatives! It’s a pleasure to have you!”

“Likewise.” Sal bowed his head. “We’ll try to avoid making trouble.”

“Pfft!” Cara laughed loudly. “Speak for yourself! I’m gonna go wild! Verità has so much more stuff than the Mars colony did! All we had there was red sand and bandits!”

“I’m sorry, what?” Anna leaned in, her attention peaked. “Bandits?”

“Verità’s got so much cool stuff!” Cara continued, ignoring her. “You’ve got jungles, mountains, and oceans! You guys get to fight giant monsters! I mean, come on! That’s the coolest shit ever!”

“I’m glad you think so!” cackled a familiar voice, piercing the sound of the cafeteria. “It’ll make it easier for us when you get eaten.”

Everyone turned to see Melcroft approach the head of the table. Anna wondered if she had been blending in and watching them like a ninja. The thought made her smile until she realized that it could very well be true. “The gang’s all here!” she clapped and started rubbing her hands together like a hovercar saleswoman. “Now we can get started with basic training!”

“Boo!” Cara immediately shouted, making both Anna and Eitan jump. “Who needs that? We already passed the test, didn’t we? When can we get our E-Suits and fight aliens?”

“Ridiculous woman…” Sal muttered.

Anna stopped herself from speaking. She understood why Cara was so impatient. She’d been just as eager all morning. But she knew there’d be trouble if she voiced that opinion. Right now, it was better to play it safe and slow.

Melcroft smiled at Cara as if she were an injured cat. “Tell me something.” She said slowly. “Do you think that, after using one once, you can use an E-Suit with no problem? Do you think you can fight a rampaging Scavatrice?” she cocked her head. “Do you even know how to use a gun?”

“Well…” Cara stammered. “Um… Kind of?”

Kind of isn’t enough. All of you proved yourselves during the entrance exams, that’s true. But before we send you into the field, you need to refine your skills and abilities. Right now, you’re clueless beginners. We need to cut that clueless out before you’re ready for the job.”

Eitan raised his hand. “Question. Will we still be paid for our time in training?”

Anna stared at him. She couldn’t believe what she just heard. He didn’t strike her as the money-grubbing type from their interactions in the exams. But seeing the glimmer in his eyes, she realized that he was just as passionate about cash as he was for alien biology. She couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed.

“You’ll receive an income for each day spent training,” Melcroft assured him. “It won’t hold even a small candle to what you’d get from most missions, but it should be enough to sustain you. Is that acceptable?”

He nodded and didn’t say anything else. Anna couldn’t help but frown at him. What did you expect? A part of her asked. The others are all probably like that too.

Melcroft nodded. “Good. Anyone else?” she waited a moment for someone to speak. When no one did, she clapped again. “Great! Now, if you’d all follow me! It’s time for your first day of basic training!”

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