Chapter 31 – An Unknown Future
— Ligdia, Skydiath 18, 8054 —
(Monday, November 7, 2129 AD)
“Alright… I think that’s enough for now. Let’s take a break.”
“Phew…” Spike wiped his brow with the back of his hand as he stepped back from Karísah and grinned. “Man, that was the first real workout I’ve had in a while. This was a great idea!”
“Ha, well, I know what it’s like to be the only Forcetechnic around,” Karísah replied while she performed a handful of cooldown stretches. She, Spike, and Mark were currently training together on the dusty training fields of WCU under the afternoon sun; due to all three of them possessing Forcetechnism, normal exercises were of minimal benefit to them. There didn’t exist a weight in Tresnon that any of them had difficulty lifting, and body weight training was just as useless. However, Karísah claimed to have learned how to use another Forcetechnic’s strength to help train her own, and Spike and Mark both were more than happy to learn from her. Not long after that, they had moved to the training fields to train — though in practice, only Spike and Karísah were able to participate in the training, as Mark’s strength so severely outclassed them both that they determined that he could actually severely injure someone if he participated.
“It certainly is somewhat… isolating,” Mark responded to Karísah’s comment as he stepped up to the two from the sidelines.
“Oh!” Karísah’s smile was immediately replaced by an apologetic frown. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—”
“It’s fine, it’s fine. I’m used to it,” Mark reassured her with a sheepish grin. “I’m just glad that the two of you were able to practice together.”
“It’s still a shame you couldn’t join us,” Spike remarked, “though I guess with your strength, you really don’t need to!”
Mark shrugged. “I suppose. Though, it does make me wonder…” He turned to Karísah. “You seem to be an authority on Forcetechnism. Does strength training actually help? It’s obvious that our strength doesn’t actually come from our muscles, after all…”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say I’m an authority,” Karísah quickly refuted. “All I know, I’ve learned from Christeané. Uh— Dean Kolstén, sorry. Accordin’ to him, you actually can increase your Forcetechnic strength through trainin’, it’s just really hard.”
“It ain’t just about increasin’ strength, anyways,” Spike declared. “It’s about the discipline, too!”
“You could more easily do that by just liftin’ weights in a CENT field…”
“Well, sure, but it’s more fun to use your superstrength!”
“I guess I can’t argue with that.”
“The training that you’ve introduced us to is rather interesting, I must say,” Mark commented. “In practice, it seems simple enough. You’re basically weightlifting, or doing push-ups, but instead of weights, you’re fighting the strength of another Forcetechnic. I don’t really know why I hadn’t thought of that earlier.”
“It works best if you can find another Forcetechnic who’s about as strong as you are,” Karísah stated. “With your strength, I wouldn’t be surprised if the trainin’ never worked for you. Sorry…”
“Ah, don’t be. There’s nothing to be done about it.”
“How are you so strong, though? I mean, you beat me in a fight before, so I knew that you were stronger than me — but I didn’t realize until today by how much! You were able to pin both me and Spike without breakin’ a sweat!”
“Yeah, that’s pretty nuts, dude,” Spike said. “You’ve got more strength in one arm than I do in my whole body, how the fuck does that work?!”
“If I knew, I’d tell you,” Mark replied, and then shrugged. “We Eximius Vir have always been more powerful than other Chaotics of our type… that’s about all I can say.”
“Well at least Karísah’s close to an even match for my strength,” Spike commented, and then shot her a grin. “We should do this more often!”
“Ha! Sure thing,” Karísah replied in kind. “Maybe one day, you’ll actually get stronger than me!”
“Hey, I’m close already!”
“But not quite there yet. And I’m still young, too. You’ll have to train hard if you want to beat me, one day.”
“Oh c’mon, don’t start lecturin’ me…” Spike grumbled.
“If you don’t mind me asking, Karísah,” Mark spoke up, “how old are you?”
“I just turned 22,” she replied. “Not too long ago, in fact.”
“Really? You should’ve told us! I could’ve cooked up something nice.”
“Oh, no, you don’t need to bother. Tresédians don’t usually celebrate birthdays anyways, or even bring ‘em up without bein’ asked.”
“Oh yeah, I remember Selind sayin’ somethin’ like that a couple weeks ago…” Spike commented.
“Ah, that’s right. My apologies, then,” Mark said. “Didn’t mean to assume anything about how you do things around here.”
“It’s fine, don’t worry about it. Though I’m glad you offered,” Karísah replied. She then looked both ways before lowering her voice and continuing sheepishly, “though… if you’re still here, next year— and it isn’t too much of a bother, of course, then, well…”
“…Ah ha! So you do want me to cook for your birthday?”
“Well, my next one. And it’s fine if you don’t want to…”
“No, no, I’d love to!” Mark responded with a warm smile. “There’s little I like more than an excuse to cook up a good meal. Especially so for a new friend!”
“A friend…?” Karísah echoed. “…But we’ve only known each other for a little over a week.”
“That’s plenty of time to make friends,” Spike declared. “After all, you’ve been a lotta help to us. Helped us move in, showed us around town, even tagged along when we went to that Goresan place and, uh…”
He trailed off as a dark expression crossed Karísah’s face, and she averted her gaze.
“S…sorry,” Spike finished stiffly.
“…You aren’t to blame for what happened to Goresan,” Karísah replied. “But let’s… not talk about it.”
“As for the original topic,” Mark quickly diverted, “I take it Tresédians don’t make friends easily?”
“That’s probably easy to see, heh,” Karísah responded. “It comes with the whole… bein’ all on our own thing, I guess. Tresédians just aren’t very open…”
“You sure are, though,” Spike remarked. “You’re the only student at this whole damn school who’s approached us on your own. And multiple times, at that!”
“Ah ha ha, is that so?” Karísah laughed uneasily. “You all just seem like interestin’ people, really. I’m sorry, am I botherin’ you?”
“Not at all. In fact, Sky’s been complainin’ a lot, sayin’ that she wishes more folks here were like you.”
“Yes, I’d like to get to know the people here better, as well,” Mark declared, “but they don’t seem very open to conversation, and I’d rather not force the matter… do you have any friends you could introduce us to, Karísah? Maybe you could break the ice.”
“…Break the ice?” Karísah echoed in confusion.
“Sorry, that’s an Earthian saying. It basically means to help get conversation going between two people who just met, to get past that initial barrier of unease or awkwardness that you can have against strangers.”
“I see. Well, uh… Spike, you’ve met Relia…”
“Yeah. She’s pretty… blunt,” Spike commented.
“Ha ha, yeah, that’s certainly true,” Karísah replied with a smile, and then glanced away, as though staring into the distance. “As I’ve told you, though, she wanders all around Treséd. Doesn’t spend much time here in Tresnon…”
“Wish she did, though, huh?”
“Yeah… …b-but just ‘cause she’s my friend, you know!”
“‘Just’ friends, huh?”
“Please don’t tell me you’re gonna start doin’ whatever it was that Pierce and Phoenix were doin’…”
“Nah. I don’t like intervenin’ so directly,” Spike declared. “Buuut, lemme just say somethin’. I’ve got two friends who claim that they’re ‘just friends’, too, even though it’s clear as hell that they’d both like a little more, if you know what I mean.”
“So they’ve been like this for years. Years! And every time the topic comes up, you can see how frustrated and awkward they get, just ‘cause they can’t get over how damn self conscious they are, or because they’re just that afraid of rejection. Now look at me an’ Sky — I don’t wanna brag or anythin’, but I’m really enjoyin’ what we’ve got. But my friends don’t have that — instead, they got years of… nothin’, basically. So if you don’t wanna be like them, then maybe next time you see Relia, you should say somethin’.”
Karísah averted her gaze. “…Maybe…”
“Just think about it a bit. And if I’m readin’ the situation wrong, then, hey, just forget everything I said,” Spike replied.
“These two friends of yours, Spike…” Mark spoke up, “…would I happen to know them?”
“Heh heh…” Spike grinned. “I think you know the answer to that question.”
“I see. Well, if it’s so obvious that they like each other, then why not just tell them that? Why just watch them be frustrated all the time?”
“I’ve thought about that… but Sky an’ I have decided against it. The way we see it, if these friends of ours don’t even have the guts to start their own relationship, then how will they handle any kind of difficulty or conflict in the relationship?”
“I… guess that makes sense. Sort of. Though I’ve never been in a relationship myself, so I can’t really say…”
“This is news to me, too,” Karísah remarked. “Are relationships really that difficult?”
“Well, uh, that depends… I think.” Spike grinned sheepishly. “I mean, I’ve only been in one relationship, so I guess I’m not really the best guy to ask! Ah ha ha!”
“I mean, wouldn’t being in a long-term relationship make you more qualified to talk about this subject?” Mark questioned.
“Sure, but there are also folks who say you don’t even know what you want out of a relationship until you’ve been through multiple,” Spike countered, and then shrugged. “But hey, I’m only 21, so what do I know?”
“Heh… fair enough.” Mark then turned back to Karísah. “But back to the original topic. Is there anyone else you could introduce us to, aside from Relia?”
“Hmm…” She paused to think for a moment. “…Liéhdan, I suppose. He’s a pretty laid-back guy. He goes to the Academy, though — uh, that is, the Wanléon-Tchiréon Academy of Chaotics, over in Relédiaka. So I’m not sure when you all would get a chance to meet him. Aside from him, uh… well, uh…”
Spike and Mark exchanged an uneasy glance. “…It’s fine if there isn’t anyone who’d want to meet us,” Mark eventually commented, turning back to face Karísah. “You said yourself that Tresédians like to keep to themselves, so don’t feel like you have to force a meeting.”
“Uh… yeah. Right. …Sorry…” Karísah apologized with a sheepish smile. “I’m just not, you know…”
“Like I said, it’s fine,” Mark reiterated, and then glanced between Spike and Karísah. “Well, I think that’s enough of a break—”
“Karísah! There you are!”
The three Forcetechnics turned toward the new voice. Approaching from the direction of WCU’s main gates was a short woman, with olive-toned skin and dark wavy hair. She wore a dark blue uniform with a shawl wrapped just around her shoulders, as well as a sort of blue half-cloak that attached to her belt and extended down to her boots around her black slacks.
“Oh, Kaoné—! I mean, Dean Densalin!” Karísah exclaimed as the woman approached. “It’s nice to see you! I didn’t know you were in town.”
“I just arrived a little bit ago,” Kaoné replied, stopping next to the three and looking up at Karísah. In so doing, the height difference between her and the Forcetechnics was made all the more apparent — the shortest of the three, Karísah, stood at six feet tall, while Kaoné came just an inch short of five.
Upon realizing this, Spike couldn’t help but snort in amusement — the last time he had seen Kaoné, she never approached so closely. She passed him an odd, lingering look, at which point she turned toward Karísah — and then glanced up at Spike and Mark again, as though in recognition.
“…You’re the Earthians,” Kaoné eventually commented. “Spike and Mark, right?
“Uh, yeah, that’s us,” Spike replied, ignoring the annoyed glance that Mark passed him. “We met a couple weeks ago, didn’t we?”
“We did. I heard that a lot has happened, since then. Speaking of…” Kaoné turned to give Karísah a concerned look. “Davídrius told me what happened a couple days ago, but nothing since. How’s he handling it?”
“Ah… well…” Karísah sharply inhaled as a grimace appeared on her face. “…He’s a little angrier than usual. Nothin’ really new there, though. He’s also been talkin’ with Selind a lot, I think tryin’ to set up more frequent patrols through the region. But I haven’t seen much of him myself since Skydia…”
“Was it… that bad?” Mark questioned warily as he glanced between Karísah and Spike.
“Looked like a whole town had just up an’ disappeared,” Spike remarked. “We didn’t actually see it happen, but, uh… wasn’t a good look.” He then sighed and scratched his head. “I get what Davídrius is doin’, and it needs doin’, but what about us? I don’t really think he can focus on teachin’ us and dealin’ with the security issues around here…”
“That’s where I come in,” Kaoné declared. “I’ll be taking over your education from Davídrius.”
“Oh,” Mark commented in surprise. “But… you don’t even live here, do you?”
“No. My permanent home is in Nimaliaka, but it’s fine. It was always the plan for me to eventually come here and help teach you all, anyways. The schedule just got bumped up a bit, due to recent events.”
“Why come here, though?” Spike questioned, “why not send us over to… uh… wherever your school is?”
Kaoné looked down as she released an exasperated sigh. “That’s… …well, keeping secrets won’t help gain your trust. The answer is optics. Public relations.”
“…I think I see,” Mark responded. “The Schools of Chaos are supposed to be prestigious institutions of higher learning for Nimalian Chaotics, so if a bunch of Earthians got free admission, then it would look bad.”
“Yes, that’s exactly it.”
“But… ain’t that exactly what happened?” Spike asked in confusion.
“Yes… but Wrikax Chaos University is in Treséd, and for better or for worse, most Nimalians don’t think that anything in Treséd could be as good as in the other nations,” Kaoné explained, and then frowned. “Most Nimalians simply don’t care about Treséd at all, in fact. Personally, I don’t like it… and Davídrius really doesn’t like it. But it’s the situation we have to deal with.”
“Oh, he made that plenty clear when we first met.”
Kaoné sighed. “I figured he would… anyways. Starting tomorrow, I’ll be the one teaching your lessons. You’ll still see Davídrius, but he has plenty on his plate at the moment.”
“Thanks, Kaoné,” Karísah responded softly. “Even if Davídrius doesn’t say so, I’m sure he appreciates your help.”
“And I’m glad to help, in any way I can.”
“Aren’t you, like, the most powerful Nimalian Chaotic, or somethin’?” Spike questioned. “A Materiatechnic, right? With some kinda seriously OP Overdrive?”
“…Some people say that, yes,” Kaoné replied apprehensively. “Personally, I think that’s missing the point. Even then, the issue of the Bleeders here in Treséd is not one that can be handled with force alone — nor would I be willing to handle it that way.”
“Davídrius has said that you’d say that. Multiple times,” Karísah remarked with a slight smile.
“I’m sure he did,” Kaoné responded with a roll of her eyes. “But if he truly wanted my help in dealing with the Bleeders, I’m certain that he’d ask.”
“Are you?” Spike questioned, “he seems kinda… uh, well…”
“He’s slow to trust, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t know his own limits,” Kaoné declared. “Trust me, I’ve known him for… just about half my life, in fact. If he ever warms up to you, you’ll see what I mean.”
“I don’t want to get ahead of myself, ha ha. Anyways…” She began looking around. “…I still need to talk to Davídrius, so if you’ll excuse me.”
“Of course,” Karísah commented as the Dean turned to leave. “It’s good to see you again!”
“It’s good to see you, too!” Kaoné replied back, at which point she lifted into the air and flew off over the city.
“…Whoa,” Spike muttered as he watched her leave. “…She can fly, too?”
“She’s a skilled Materiatechnic, so yeah,” Karísah said. “A lot of Chaotic abilities can be used to fly, actually. It’s just us Introtechnics who are land-bound…”
“Introtechnic?” Spike echoed in confusion. “But I thought we were Forcetechnics?”
“Forcetechnism is a subset of Introtechnism. …Don’t worry if it sounds confusing,” Karísah added as Spike simply stared at her. “I’m sure Kaoné can explain it better than I can.”
“All three of us have multiple abilities, anyways,” Mark commented. “I don’t think we’ll fit into nice little boxes so easily.”
“The two of you, maybe, but both my Forcetechnism and Duratechnism count as Introtechnism.”
“My head hurts…” Spike muttered.
“Let’s leave that lesson for another time, then,” Mark said, and then glanced over at Karísah. “I have a question for you, though, if you don’t mind me asking. What’s your relationship with Davídrius, exactly? You seem to know a lot about him, and his friends.”
“…I guess I do,” Karísah replied, and then raised her head to stare at the empty sky, as though in contemplation. “I think I already told you that he’s— well, a guardian figure, I guess.”
“You said somethin’ about him not likin’ it when you called him ‘Dad’, too,” Spike pointed out. “Sounds kinda…”
“It’s fine, it really is. I understand where he’s coming from. I’m… maybe even one of the only people who can.”
“Is this a story you’d be okay with telling us?” Mark asked.
“Yeah, I think so. Even if only to make sure that you don’t get the wrong impression of either of us,” Karísah responded. “…To make a long story short, we’ve both lost our entire home Compounds to the Bleeders. It’s far from uncommon for a Tresédian to lose one or both of their parents, but it actually is pretty rare for someone to lose their entire home — full Compound raids, like what we saw at Goresan, are super rare. It just so happens that Davídrius and I were both victims of one… so neither of us know very many people who can really understand what happened to us.”
“That’s… rough,” Spike commented uneasily.
Karísah shrugged. “It is what it is. The important part is, when I didn’t have anyone else to help me… he knew what I was goin’ through, and took me in. I’m sure it was tough for him, too. This was a little over ten years ago, so I was only… maybe 9 years old, at the time.” She looked down, her mouth turning into an uneasy frown. “I don’t… I don’t remember the attack itself, or how my home was lost. I just remember wanderin’ the wasteland for days, and days. Maybe even weeks. My Duratechnism is the only reason I’m still alive, since I can go much longer than others without eatin’ or drinkin’ — and even then, I was dehydrated and starvin’ by the time Davídrius found me. Ever since, I’ve been his daugh—“ She stopped herself, a troubled look on her face. A second later, she amended, “…I’ve been living with him. I’m not sure I can ever repay him for that.”
“…I see.” Mark nodded in understanding. “I’m… sorry to hear about what you’ve been through. And I think I understand, even if only a little bit. I don’t have parents, either, though I never lost them to such a… tragic event as you. I simply never knew my parents in the first place. Even so, my friends and I were eventually able to find parental figures of our own, and I really value that connection, that time with them. So I understand how important Davídrius must be to you.”
“Thanks, Mark,” Karísah replied with a forlorn smile. “I’m sorry to hear about your parents, too. But I’m glad you understand.”
As Karísah and Mark exchanged words, Spike simply glanced between them with an uneasy frown upon his face, uncertain of how to contribute to the conversation. He eventually settled on awkward silence, until Mark noticed him.
“…Oh, I’m sorry, Spike,” Mark commented with a sheepish smile. “Didn’t mean to bring down the mood, so much.”
“Uh, no, that’s, uh… ah ha ha…” Spike laughed uneasily. “I mean, don’t let me mess this up for y’all just ‘cause I don’t have anythin’ to add…”
“No, Mark’s right. Sorry,” Karísah replied, and then bowed her head slightly toward Spike. “Let’s talk about something else.”
“Perhaps instead of talking, we should get back to training,” Mark suggested, and then glanced up at the sun — which had moved a considerable distance since they began their break.
“Now that’s somethin’ I can contribute to,” Spike declared as he began cracking his knuckles. “You up for that, Karísah?”
“Of course. How couldn’t I be?” she replied with a smirk. “Alright, Spike, let’s start from the top! Link hands, and…!”
“…What am I even doing…”
Austin looked down, his brow furrowed, as he stared at the blue and golden claymore that he held in his hands. Slowly, he turned it over, his gaze tracing the black hilt, the blue and gold double-crossguard, the silver blade, and the softly glowing pale blue orb set within the crossguard, right where it intersected the blade.
“This sword…” he muttered, only to trail off in frustration. After a moment, he dismissed the weapon in a flash of light and moved over to his dorm room’s window overlooking the dusty grounds of WCU. Three days had passed since he had returned from Compound Goresan, and in that time, Austin had never managed to pull his thoughts away from the Compound for long. Even now, as he turned from the window and looked over at the laptop he had brought with him to Nimalia, he couldn’t bring himself to play his games.
Barely seems appropriate, after what I saw… he mused. I didn’t really realize it in the moment, not fully, but… a whole town was fucking WIPED OUT! Everyone captured, or killed! How many people even lived there? A few hundred? A thousand…?
He backed away from his window to take a seat in his room’s lone chair, only to hold a hand to his brow in frustration. After he first met Pallan and found out that he could summon a claymore out of thin air, as well as the fact that he was supposedly special, Austin had looked forward to the future. With superpowers, a magic blade, and a newfound role as a chosen one — what could possibly have gone wrong? But the trip to Goresan forced Austin to face the reality of the world: that Chaotic combat was dangerous and held higher stakes than he had realized, even when fighting EA. The more he thought about it, the more and more he realized just how close to death he had skirted on multiple occassions — and the more he thought about that, the more he realized that he wanted nothing to do with it.
A knock on his room’s door snapped Austin out of his thoughts. “Hey, Austin,” came a male voice from the other side, “you in there?”
“Luke…” Austin muttered, and then sighed. After another second, he eventually responded, “…come in.”
The door promptly opened, revealing Luke and his casual outfit of a green t-shirt and jeans — a striking similarity to Austin’s blue t-shirt and jean shorts. With a small smile, Luke stepped into the room and glanced over at Austin. “You’ve been cooped up in here all day long, huh?”
“It’s the weekend,” Austin deadpanned. “What should I be doing?”
“Hey, I’m not accusin’ you of being lazy or anything,” Luke countered as he closed the door behind him. He then stepped over to the room’s window and began staring out of it, while Austin eyed him from his chair across the room. “…Nice weekend, though,” Luke eventually commented, “three whole days… every week. I think I like it.”
“Yeah, but it comes with a six-day work week,” Austin retorted. “I don’t think it’s worth it.”
“Ah, you’ll get used to it. Though I guess it might’ve been better to split those six days into two sets of three, with one day off in the middle, and a regular two-day weekend, huh?”
Austin looked down, his brow furrowed, just as Luke glanced his way. The Captain pursed his lips for a moment and then sighed silently before returning his gaze to the scenery outside the window. “…How’re your friends doing?” Luke asked.
“Can’t you ask them yourself?” Austin replied flatly.
“Sure, but you’re here now,” Luke responded. “I can see Spike training from here… but where’s the twins?”
“…Urban exploring or somethin’, I dunno. Isn’t it your job to keep track of us?”
“Alright, alright, I’m sorry for askin’. …Not a bad view out your window, though, huh—?”
“What do you want?”
Luke glanced back at Austin, only to find the latter glaring at him. With a sigh, Luke backed away from the window and then leaned on the nearby wall as he slotted his hands into his pockets. “…Saw right through me, huh?”
“You didn’t answer the question,” Austin insisted.
“Alright, then.” Luke glanced down, took a deep breath, and then looked back at Austin. “How’re you holdin’ up?”
“C’mon, don’t give me that. You’ve been out of it all weekend. I know you like to hole up in your room, sometimes, but this is a whole new level. I haven’t seen you with Spike or Twy at all.”
“It’s been three days.”
“You didn’t come to dinner any of those days,” Luke countered. “You ain’t this much of a shut-in.”
“How would you know?” Austin shot back, “before all this shit went down, the last time I saw you was over a year ago!”
“C’mon, Austin, we practically grew up together. Ten years apart in age, sure, but I know you well enough.”
“Look…” Luke paused for a moment to gather his thoughts, before continuing, “…I know what happened in Goresan.”
“…And?” Austin questioned flatly.
“And I know that your first real combat is always rough,” Luke continued. “I mean… I know that you fought EA and his robots a couple times, but you and the others never seemed too shaken up about that. Ever since y’all got back from that Compound, though…” He shook his head. “Mark and I really should’ve gone with you.”
“…What are you tryin’ to say?”
“I’m sayin’ that I understand what you’re feelin’ right now. Goresan must’ve been the first time you saw death, especially in combat. That’s never easy.”
Austin scowled and diverted his gaze. “So you’re here to lecture me about it?”
“No, no, that’s not it. I’m not tryin’ to lecture you. I just… I want you to know that I’m here, you know? We can talk about it.”
“So you’re fine talking about death, huh? What about everything before that? I remember pretty distinctly how you danced around the topic of conscription.”
“Maybe before we talk about acceptin’ death, we should talk about bein’ forced into that position in the first place, huh?”
Luke’s brow furrowed. “You know I’m not in charge of that.”
“Doesn’t change the fact that we wouldn’t be havin’ this conversation right now if I’d never been conscripted in the first place!”
“What happened to the attitude you had back on Earth, right before we left for Nimalia? You seemed pretty content with comin’ here back then.”
“Yeah, before we got dumped in the middle of a fucking desert, and almost died to a violent gang attack! I didn’t sign up for this! Or anything!”
“Look… I can’t change that. Well, I’d like to see the risk assessment on more Bleeder attacks, see if y’all need movin’… but that’s not fully in my control. What I can do is help you deal with it.”
Austin crossed his arms as he glared at his uncle. “Your idea of ‘helping’ is to try talkin’ about death?”
“Yes,” Luke responded earnestly. “It’s a topic that needs discussing. Everyone in a military, whether a volunteer or not, has to deal with death in combat at some point. Either the death of your comrades, or the fact that your own actions, either directly or indirectly, will result in the deaths of others.”
“How many people have you killed, then, huh?”
“Damn it…” Luke looked down and began massaging his brow, his mouth turned down into a frown. “No sane person keeps a kill count. That isn’t relevant, anyways.”
“Too many to count, then?”
“What the hell is your point, Austin? Do you want me to rifle through every damn mission I’ve ever been on and describe every person I’ve ever shot?”
“My point is I don’t want that. I don’t want to be that! I mean, you— you signed up for SERRCom, you went on all those missions willingly. You killed willingly! Don’t you think that’s gonna change how you feel about it? And now you’re here, tryin’ to tell me that you understand how I feel!”
“I don’t… want to hear it.” Austin spun his chair around to glare at the wall. “Not until we get a choice as to whether we want to be here.”
Luke remained where he stood, his lips pursed, as he stared as his nephew. Eventually he took a deep breath and pushed off of the wall, turning toward the door as he did. A deafening silence overtook the room as Luke approached the door and opened it, though just before he stepped out, he turned back toward Austin. “If you…”
When Luke failed to continue, Austin turned his head slightly, just enough to spot his uncle through the corner of his eye. “What?” he questioned, his tone deadpan.
Luke responded with a weary sigh before turning back to the hallway outside. “Nevermind. And… sorry.”
A moment of silence passed, followed by Austin turning back toward the wall. “…Hmph.”
The only noise that followed was the thud of the door closing, leaving Austin once again alone in his room.