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It’s dark outside as I climb out of my bedroom window onto the roof. My eyes scan the ground trying to determine how high up my second story window is from the ground. I can’t decide whether I should use the back porch or the massive oak tree to get down. Both are good options but the oak tree seems more convenient. Carefully I grab onto a limb and hoist myself onto the trunk. The bark scratches my face and pulls against my clothes while I struggle to get good footing. Suddenly my bedroom light switches on and I see my brother Ethan walk inside. Pressing my body against the tree I pray he won’t see me.
“Courtney Shay?” he calls and walks to my bed, throwing off my comforter only to reveal a pile of pillows.
He steps back furrowing his eyebrows. Cupping his chin with his forefingers he stops and thinks then glances up looking directly at me. I nearly fall out of the tree until I realize he is only looking at my curtains swaying in the breeze.
“Courtney Shay.” He says walking over to the window and sticking his head out.
I don’t answer. He pulls the curtains back and the stream of light shines on my face.
Ethan’s midnight green eyes burn into my dark amethyst eyes intensely.
“I can explain.” I stammer.
“You were eavesdropping weren’t you?”
“You heard everything?”
“Then what are you still doing here?”
I gap at him, “What?”
“You know what’ll happen if you stay here. Courtney Shay get out of here.”
“You’re helping me escape?”
“Yes of course. Did you think I would agree with her and send you off to FLEET?”
I don’t answer Ethan grabs a duffel bag and fills it with my clothes.
“I deposited 200 dollars for you at Lisa’s store. Go get them and then come back for your duffel bag. I’ll have everything ready but be careful don’t talk to anyone. Mom’s got her spies already.”
I gulp down the lump forming in my throat and climb down the tree without looking back.
There are floods of faces, tears, and smiles when I walk away from Lisa’s store. Many of my friends and people I would hang out with were there. They invited me to sit down, have a drink, play a little pool, or sing karaoke but I refused. Never again would I sit in total tranquility eating pizza and chatting with my comrades. That would only exist in my memories.
Keeping my head down to avoid looking at anyone I walk out without saying another word. I don’t need to say good bye to anyone. I’ve already mentally shut myself away. I’m ready to take on my life as a whole new person and this time I’ll do it right.
“Courtney Shay.” A voice calls.
I turn around and see my cousin Drake walking towards me. We used to be the closest cousins because he’d come over to my house and hang out with Ethan. Then he stopped coming over and I heard it was because everyone would make fun of him for being with kids who attended a public school.
Drake hangs out all the time at Lisa’s store he’s got the cool boy swag going. His perfectly swept blonde hair reaches just pasted his ears, and his blue eyes always skim over you like he can’t really see you. It makes all the girls swoon and try extra hard to get noticed. It’s something that boost Drakes ego and makes me sick.
He stops in front of me and says, “Hey how about I take you home?”
I shake my head and shoot him a sappy smile, “Yeah you don’t have too.”
He smiles back just as sickly sweet. “Don’t worry Princess I don’t mind.”
I turn and walk outside not bothering to wait for him.
“Hey wait” he says running after me.
I turn, “Look we don’t have to do this just pretend you took me home and it’ll be fine I’ll walk.”
He shakes his head, “No really Courtney Shay I want to take you home. I need to tell you something.”
“My house is two blocks away I can walk. Alone.”
“Courtney Shay wait-“
I don’t listen so he grabs my arm and whispers fiercely, “Ethan told me not to let you go home.”
“I’m not going home.” I reply.
He nods, “Ethan asked me to drive you to the airport… It’s a long walk.”
I stare at him, “Ethan told you everything?”
He nods shaking his mess of blonde hair.
“Okay but I really want to say good bye to Ethan before I go and I need to grab my bag so take me home first.”
We climb into his car and he drives me home. Ethan told him not to take me home? Must be some sort of mix up. It has to be and with one look at my house I can tell why. In the driveway three white police cruisers are parked with their blues and red lights flashing. There are police officers scattered around my lawn. My heart pounds wildly inside my chest has something happened to my mom?
“Mom!” I scream as I run to my house.
A chubby police officer tries to stop me, but I shove him to the side frantically. Then continue to sprint, clamoring up the porch stairs clumsily, tripping on the last step. The police officer sees his chance to grab me.
“Let go!” I scream, “Mom, mom where are you?”
The police officer lets out an exasperated groan as I kick him in the stomach.
“Young lady calm down you cannot go inside.”
“Mom!” I scream once again.
“Courtney Shay It’s alright.” Ethan my brother says taking me from the police officer
The officer nods at him, wiping the beads of sweat off his shiny bald head. I turn to my brother hugging him tightly thankful that he’s okay.
“Where’s mom? What happened? Is something wrong?”
He shakes his head “Mom’s in the car-”
I bolt up, “Drake?” I call.
He is standing behind me “Courtney Shay?” he asks confused.
I don’t understand what’s happening either so run to the pretty Audi A5 Coupe parked in the driveway. My mom is sitting in the backseat. She stares into my eyes with a look that sends tremors down my back. I know something is terribly wrong.
A police officer wraps his shiny metal cuffs around my wrists. I stare down at the ground embarrassed, but also hurt. Salty tears roll down my cheeks leaving traces of my lash blast mascara behind.
“Step inside the charger.” Then police officer says pushing me towards it.
I climb in numbly staring out at the field of daisies. My oak tree sits strongly in the ground reminding me that tranquility is possible. “May I speak to her?” Ethan asks the police officer.
“I’m sorry young man buy you can’t.”
“Why not?” Ethan persists, “You can’t do this I want to at least say good-bye.”
“Please,” I say, “Let me say good-bye to my brother.”
The police officer turns looks at me, and shakes his head dropping his eyes. “Go ahead kid but make it quick I don’t want to get into trouble.”
Ethan rushes forwards and hugs me. “Courtney Shay it’ll be all right okay.”
My face crimsons as I try desperately to stop crying.
“Look at me. Hey look at me.” He whispers.
My eyes meet his.
“I promise that I’ll do everything I can to bring you back home.”
I shake my head, “Ethan I don’t have a home anymore.”
“Yes you do. You can stay with me. Listen Courtney Shay I love you stay strong.”
“I will. p-inky p-promise.” I reply shakily knowing that we’ve vowed never to break pinky promises.
His face crumples into despair. “I don’t believe this. I don’t believe this.”
“Ethan you tried I know you did. It’s my fault I came back home. She tricked us both.” I say before the policeman comes back and starts closing the door.
We both strain to see each other one last time. His midnight green eyes, messy black hair, and adorable dimple disappear from my view and I lose it. Immediately I start bawling and bury my face into my hands. If only I had checked the mail today as I had planned to. My mom wouldn’t have seen my acceptance letter to Columbia University. She wouldn’t have seen the doubt in my eyes she wouldn’t have called FLEET for immediate dispatch and perhaps things would have turned out differently.
Time seems to be crawling by because I’m still trapped in the back of the charger after what seems like hours. My hair is a mess and I know that my mascara is smeared but I make no effort to wipe it clean until I hear a voice crackle through the intercom.
“Courtney Shay Vanderbilt Welcome to Fighting League of Elite Elaqueate Tierce. Today your journey with us begins you will be inaugurated into the family and given power that no one else possesses. FLEET takes serious care of its members and it makes sure you will receive training, mental preparedness, and intelligence tactile to become one of the world’s best fighters.”
Upon hearing this I sit up and wipe away my tears run my fingers through my hair untangling the strands that get caught and slice my fingers. I may not like being here but if I appear to be weak my rank will be at the bottom. FLEET doesn’t tolerate any signs of human weakness everyone who wants to be the best comes here. Crying will only damage my reputation.
I must fix my appearance. Knocking at the tiny sliding window that connects the drivers cab to the backseat I request a brush. The passenger hands it to me along with a brush and a bag. I prop up the mirror onto my thigh and brush my hair swiftly. Then I open the bag it has all of my makeup from home and also replacements for everything. My mom must have had this planned prior to this.
As I suspected my mascara has smeared onto my cheeks staining my jawbone even. I wipe away the mess and apply a dab of foundation on each side. Swiftly I reapply my mascara and dab chap stick onto my lips. My dark velvet eyes harden and I mask all my emotions. Glancing in the mirror I dismiss the idea of slicking my hair into a ponytail because it falls beautifully making me look fierce and untouchable. After taking a deep breath I’m ready to join FLEET.
The charger comes to a stop and the door burst open. My makeup bag sits next to me and I squint from the glare of the sun.
“Welcome Courtney Shay. We’ve been expecting you.” A voice calls from the outside.
My throat tightens and I climb of the charger to reveal the scenery around me. Trees tower up hundreds of feet tall, grass is kept short and a vivid green, new looking buildings are located in the middle, all with one way mirror walls.
A guy with short blonde hair and clear brown eyes stands before me. His arms are crossed tightly across his chest revealing sets of muscles and engulfing his broad chest. On his face a faint scar runs from his eyebrow bone to halfway up is nicely tanned forehead.
I furrow my eyebrows in confusion and reply, “Thank you…”
He nods, “My name is Ryker. Please follow me.”
“Ryker?” I question.
He nods “All information of your existence will be erased your name, fingerprints, photos, records, and everything else. Intelligence here at FLEET picks your name through inauguration. Ryker was my middle name but Intelligence let me keep it since it suited me. I was lucky.”
Intelligence, decides your rank, training experience, and identity. My mom used to be an active member of Intelligence. She worked at FLEET for years then retired. She said it was of old age but she was blooming at only 35 years of age.
Whenever I tried to ask her about it she simply said “You’ll understand someday.”
Angrily I push her thoughts away. I won’t think about her nor Intelligence. For now I’ll simply focus on the task at hand and it’s getting through inauguration, but more at hand Ryker.
“What was your first name?” I ask and after looking up at his scary expression I add, “If it’s appropriate to ask.”
“It was Joshua.” He glances over at me.
Joshua a simple boy name perhaps one that held a story. Ryker looks like he might have been a jock before tough on the outside but with a soft inside. Possibly at one time he had a girlfriend who he’d take home and kiss at the doorstep. Or better yet a little brother who he’d teach to play football.
Ryker furrows his eyebrows, “You probably won’t get a name change either.”
“What? Oh why?” I shake the thoughts out of my head.
“It’s uncommon that you keep your name. People go from Jessica to Skander or George to Ace. There are times when the name you were given from birth suits you and you get to keep it.”
I nod and Ryker looks down at me scornfully. His face hardens into a mask and all traces of friendliness disappear, “No more questions until you are inaugurated. Everything you need to know you will learn from after the ceremony.”
I say nothing and follow him down into the building and down the seemingly endless hallway.
Skander, who I met during processing, takes me into the dressing room and throws me a garment bag. “Change into this and report downstairs in ten minutes.”
I nod quickly and begin to undress wincing at the pain on my fingertips. My fingerprints were melted off and branded into the FLEET symbol. The symbol is a swirled flame inside an octagon. On each side of the octagon there is a spear coming out.
The shirt is navy blue with the FLEET seal on the arm and the pants are black they both fit me perfectly as if someone had measured my body and fitted them. Quietly I pull out my phone and open my messages. They screen goes black and a message appears on the screen. ALL DIGITAL DEVICES PROHIBITED ON FLEET CAMPUS. Silently I swear under my breath. They are watching me.
The door swings open and I step outside into an empty blinding white hallway. I know from the tour they have given me how to get downstairs. As quickly as I can, I descend and find myself in a room full of FLEET authority. Skander and Ryker stand in a corner. Ryker has his arms crossed and Skander stands leaning her body towards him. She catches me looking at them and her face hardens. I glance down ashamedly.
“Welcome to FLEET! Ms. Courtney Shay!” A burly man standing in the front of the room greets me.
Everyone salutes me making a rectangle with their arms and hands and then pounding their chest with their fist and placing their other hand on top. I stand there feeling like an idiot because all these people are watching me expecting me to say or do something. I don’t do either and at this moment you could drop a pen and it would echo louder than the Niagara Falls.
A guy with blue eyes and messy auburn hair standing next to the big burly man looks directly into my eyes and then down at his arms. It’s like figuring out the answer to a hard math problem easily. Relief spreads throughout my limbs and I quickly salute back.
“Thank you.” I say.
Everyone smiles and relaxes their poses.
“And it is so we know you are supposed to be here.” The burly man says now that I have saluted back.
I smile numbly but inside I want to cry.
“Then let inauguration begin.” The burly man booms…..
The ground literally gives out from underneath me and I fall into an arena where my first test is about to take place.
“Keep your feet planted.” Blue eyes mutters as he is dropped in as well.
Blue’s comments angers me just because I’m new doesn’t mean I haven’t train for this I think. I look up and see Blue has already started running to the flags sitting in the middle of the arena. I run after him and catch up in no time. We reach the flags simultaneously but I manage to take both into my hands first. I waste no time in turning around running to the target where I’m supposed to place them to win.
Blue grabs my shoulder and yanks me back. My body slams into his. I punch him swiftly and hit all the human body’s weak spots. He groans at each one but takes them nicely which is quite impressive. He takes my wrists and twists them into a weird position that sends excruciating pain up my arms. I yelp out in pain and use my legs to take his out. He falls bringing me down with him. My wrists feel as if they were being bent past normal angles and on the edge of breaking. Tears sting my eyes as I bite my lip to keep from screaming. Blue pushes a little farther. I let go of the flags and he releases my wrists. I can’t use my hands to inflict pain aright now because they are sore from what they’ve just been through. So I knee his stomach and pick the flags up again. Then struggle to get up and run.
Blue’s breathe is knocked out but he takes three seconds and regains it. He pushes off the ground and wraps his arms around my torso. The next thing I know I’m slammed down onto the ground with Blue eyes on top of me. He smiles at me and takes the flags, placing them in his pocket, before taking off to the target. I scramble up after him and grab his arm. He jerks away tangling our bodies through the struggle and somehow I end up in his arms.
Using his forefingers he pretends to shoot me. Angrily I slam my palm into his nose. He stumbles backwards and I try pulling the flags out of his pocket but he grabs my arm and hits my stomach. I feel the air rush out of me and I can’t breathe aimlessly I swing at him. He ducks easily and sweeps me off my feet. I crash to the floor and try to catch my breath.
Blue sets the flags in the target.
The game is over I have lost.
The lights come on and everybody cheers. Blue eyes walks over to me and helps me up.
“Take five til the obstacle course.” Burly Man booms and everyone exits the room.
Blue eyes hold my torso while I limp out.
“I’m sorry.” He says sounding sincere.
“For kicking my butt?” I ask.
“Uh.” He stammers turning a little red.
“It’s okay. Reputation and all. I understand.”
Blue turns and looks at me like he’s got something to ask but then shakes it away.
“You went easy a few times.” I say, “Thanks.”
He presses his lips together and I see a set of dimples cave into his cheeks. “I couldn’t hurt you.”
“Is my lip bleeding?” I ask.
Blue’s eyes widen and he examines it. I laugh before he says anything seeing I’m joking he relaxes.
“It won’t happen again.”
We walk together to a bench just outside the obstacle course where my next test will take place.
“Thank you.” I say.
He nods before he whispers fiercely, “Pretend I’m talking about the course. Listen Courtney Shay FLEET isn’t a good organization. You have got to fail the tests. Get out of here while you still can.”
Blue’s comment scares me but I don’t admit it. Instead I say, “It wasn’t my plan to be here or stay.”
“Good.” He replies.
“Why are you telling me this?” I ask.
He hesitates then says, “Before you got here they had a conference with all FLEET personnel. They said there was something extremely special with the newest person coming into FLEET. You hold some sort of regiment. The key to all our problems they said. They want to keep you here forever. Eventually everyone here goes home and new members join. They said you weren’t to be released ever. You have got to show them you aren’t what they are looking for. FLEET wants to use you to-“ Blue stops midsentence because someone is approaching us. Skander walks to us and sits down next to Blue.
“Hey guys. How’s it going?” she asks.
Blue shrugs, “Alright I was merely telling Courtney Shay the best way to beat the obstacle course. We wouldn’t want her to fail now would we?”
Skander’s eyes widen in alarm, “No of course not. And by the way Aiden you went way too hard on her during the arena test. Nick was mad. He said it was like you were trying to scare her.”
We all laugh nervously.
“Don’t worry.” I tell Skander. “It was nice to be challenged and I’m no scaredy cat.”
She laughs relieved, “Cool. I uh got to go check on my… I got to go do something.” She says and walks away towards the Intelligence Board office. Blue and I both know exactly what she has to go do.
My hands shake as I struggle to pull off my shirt. All of the physical tests I had to do required all my strength and I had no option but to follow through. I got hurt pretty bad. The academics test and a decisions test were the last ones I had to take.
“What’s your favorite color?”
“I’ve never had one.”
“Green, no blue, turquoise. Does rainbow count? Maroon. No velvet red. That’s dark red right?”
“What do you look for in a man?”
“Uh faithful, charming, funny, and honest.” I say and catch myself thinking about Blue.
“How many times have you been told you’re beautiful?”
“I didn’t keep a record.”
“Please stop being sarcastic all the time and answer the questions Miss Courtney Shay.”
I was so nervous that I’d answer whatever I thought of first. My mind filter shut off during the test but it didn’t matter to me. I went through hell today but there is still a possibility that it will be worth it. I could be going home, far away from this place to never return.
“Courtney Shay please report to the Intelligence Board office immediately.” An intercom crackles.
I sigh and pull my shirt over my head again. Then stumble outside my door cringing at the pain of my ankle. My muscles all feel weak as if they are elastic bands stretched out too far. Forcefully I walk to Intelligence Board office and open the door.
“Have a seat.” The big burly man says motioning at a chair.
I collapse in it as gracefully as I can.
“You are a strong young lady miss Vanderbilt.”
“Thank you.” I choke out swallowing to clear my raspy throat. Then wipe my lip which has started bleeding again.
“You scored fairly high on our tests. This means after some intense preparation training you will join all our other members out in the field.”
“I scored fairly high?”
He chuckles, “Yes, of course. Most cadets don’t make it past the first test. You I’m guessing have been training?”
He nods and claps his hands. The room lights up and I see the whole board of Intelligence.
A pencil woman sits in the seat to the right of the burly man. Her hair is slicked all the way back into a tight bun. Her face is pale and her lips are purse tightly underneath her pointy nose.
On the other side of the burly man Blue Eyes sits with his head cocked to the side enhancing his chiseled chin and perfectly shaped lips.
Next to blue eyes a firm man sits his hair cut about two inches high. He has gray hairs and a beard. Unlike everyone else he doesn’t wear a FLEET uniform; instead he wears a gray suit with a striped tie.
“Intelligence has decided your name will be Shay. Courtney Shay is beautiful but too long that’s a shame because both names suit you perfectly. It seems you are a lucky one. Unlike Aiden over here.” he says motioning at Blue eyes.
Aiden shakes his head, “Intelligence made a mistake there.”
Pointy nose lady shakes her head and barks, “Intelligence makes no mistakes. Away with you now Aiden.”
He shrugs and salutes, “Alright fine. Good bye everyone.”
“Is he not part of the board?” I ask.
“No he helped with your evaluation because he fought against you in the arena.” Burly man pauses, “Your name is now Shay and it means gift. I’ve got to say Shay you truly are a gift. Welcome to FLEET tomorrow you will receive your schedule and position tomorrow along with the FLEET rules. You must follow every single rule or the consequences will be severe. Now go get some sleep.”
I push myself up from the chair in utter disbelief, “Thank you. Can I ask your name?”
Burly man laughs, “My name is Nick. This is Mr. Alexander and Ms. D’Lexia. We are the Intelligence Board not Intelligence. By the way I’m sure everyone will start introducing themselves once they know you’re in. One more thing Ms. Shay everybody’s names have meanings just like yours but we don’t make a show of telling everyone our name meanings… Remember that please.”
Without further questions I walk away from the Intelligence Board.
I walk out of inauguration and I collapse. I failed. I was accepted into FLEET and now I can’t even lift myself off the shiny marble floor. Then I feel someone grab my arms and pull me up. I bite my lip to keep from screaming. They sweep me off my feet and carry down the hallway into a room. The person smells musky so I force my eyes open. Aiden’s hair falls over his eyes as he looks down at me.
“Aiden?” I whisper.
“Shh. Save your energy Shay.” He replies.
I curl closer to his body feeling the waves of emptiness wash away. He sets me down on a bed.
“Don’t leave.” I mutter.
“I’m right here.” He replies as he sits down on the bed and ruffles my hair softly.
“Thank you.” I whisper contently.
He leans down and brushes his lips on my cheekbone. Then he says something else but can’t make out his words anymore and I fall asleep in Aiden’s arms.
“Shay wake up.” A voice commands while shaking my shoulders.
I groan because my body is still sore but I open my eyes and find myself staring at Skander’s slim torso. She places her hands are on her hips and then steps back.
“Where am I?” I ask groggily.
She shakes her blonde head. “Really you don’t remember? Wow this is pathetic and to think you scored higher than me.”
I glare at her, “I know I’m at FLEET. I remember everything but this isn’t my room.”
Skander cocks her head. “This is Aiden’s room. Thanks to you he had to sleep in the training room and he looks terrible.”
“I’m sorry; I guess I owe him now.”
“You sure do. Anyways Shay I’m one of your advisors. So I had to come get your butt out of bed that way you can go and receive your schedule. This is the only time I’ll do it though. I’m not a babysitter.”
I shrug and get out of bed, “I won’t need a babysitter.”
She laughs, “The next couple of weeks will be like inauguration only ten times worse. You’ll be begging me to help you. Hurry and get dressed breakfast is in ten minutes.”
“I need clothes.” I say.
Skander jumps sheepishly, “Oh yeah,” she says and hands me a pile of clothes, “Here.”
I quickly get dressed and we walk down to the cafeteria together. People smile at us and I don’t feel so out of place anymore. A good looking guy with jet black curly hair stops right in front of us.
“Skander and Shay. Nice ladies nice.”
I roll my eyes and Skander laughs, “Faust you weirdo. How’s it going?”
Faust shrugs nonchalantly, “Shay baby I heard you scored a seven. That’s mighty impressive. Soon you’ll be at my level and we can boogie.”
I glance over at Skander who looks mad. “Uh yeah whatever.”
Faust grabs Skander’s arm “Don’t worry hun I’m still waiting for you.”
Skander tosses her blonde hair and pulls her arm away, “Get lost Faust.”
He winks at me and leaves. He sits at a table full of guys, among them I see Aiden he’s sitting with a girl but he is looking up at Skander and me. Our eyes meet and we hold our gaze until Skander takes me by the arm and leads me to the breakfast line. We pile our plates and then walk over to a table where two girls sit. Before I sit down I sneak one last glance at Aiden but he is no longer looking at me he is busy talking to the girl next to him. I push his thoughts away and sit down.
The girls at the table look friendly. One has curly hair that falls softly just above her shoulders. She is African American and has a dancer’s body tall and graceful. She has caramel skin that accents her gray eyes. The other has red hair cut boy short. There is a sprinkle of freckles over her nose but only there which makes it cute. Like the other girl she is thin and elegant. Her bangs are swept over her forehead and she has thick eyelashes without a trace of mascara. Her brown eyes sparkle as Skander sits down and motions to the seat next to her. I sit down and smile at the girls.
The curly haired one turns out to be named Tacy and the red headed one’s name is Hattie. We chat and they complement me on my rank. Apparently I’m rank seven and it’s a pretty high rank. Hattie and Skander are both at that rank currently. This is why Skander is one of my advisors. I don’t ask how she is ranked at my level when she’s been here for four weeks already. I’ll probably ask Hattie later.
Once I finish eating I go and receive my schedule. I have training every day for half a day then a special weapons session, tactile scenarios, and finally mental preparedness class.
The list of rules are as follow:
You must attend every class
You must always check in with FLEET when out in field
Relationships are banned for active FLEET members
Pledge to FLEET and only FLEET
Never doubt FLEET
Always fulfill your missions
Follow all FLEET rules.
I crumple the paper in my hands and toss it into the trash. For me FLEET is just a temporary home so what if I break the rules?