Drops in the Sky

One foot in front of the other. That's all I knew. Just keep walking. Get water when you can. Get food when you can. Just keep walking. For 92 days, that's all I knew. And then, I met Amber Jeffries. And, by God, that girl became all I knew. All I wanted to know. But the War was all that mattered. Fighting is all that matters.

In World War Four, 10 billion people were killed. I'm one of the lucky two billion that survived. So was Amber Jeffries. Unfortunately, 1.9 billion people live in Europe. Mostly France, and a couple areas just outside of it. I'm in the hundred million left in what used to be the United States, which is currently in the midst of a Civil War. And I'm right in the middle of it.

We're kind of a mess. My life's messy. But Amber... She keeps everything together.

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18. eighteen

After everyone got paired up with an Elite, the General sent us off to do some basic training so the Elites could see what our strengths and weaknesses are. I wasn't surprised when the buff guy who had been talking to General Travis with Morgan Murphy chose Liam as his Rookie, even though he had initially picked Amber and been denied. Buff guy goes with buff guy. Makes sense. 

"So, kid. Whatcha good at?" Jason asks. I shrug. 

"I'm okay at shooting and hand-to-hand," I say. "Haven't had much experience with first aid or Strategy." 

He nods. "Sounds about right, from the looks of you. I'm a combat and first-aid recruit, so I can help you with those two. I'm not too great with Strategy, but I can set you up with someone who's great." 

"Thanks," I say. I like him; he's relaxed and cool, and has a joking manner, but can get down to business when it's time. 

"We've all been watching your guys' training, over the past few days. We had a feeling they would pair us up." 

That's not creepy

"Um... okay?" 

"I liked what I saw with you, Sky. But you get distracted too easily. Your focus has to be on your task, one hundred and ten percent of the time. Got it?" 

I nod, then bite my tongue to keep myself from saying 'yes, sir.' 

"Got it." I eye him up and down, my curiosity getting the better of me. How old is he? How'd he become an Elite so young? How good is he, really? 

He catches me staring and laughs. "You got a question, just ask it." 

I chuckle nervously. "Okay. If you don't mind me asking, how old are you?" 

"Eighteen." I gape at him. "Been an Elite for a couple months."

"Jesus!" I exclaim. 

"I've been in the Army, though, since I was fourteen. I've got some experience in real-life situations, too. Why don't we test you out?" He suggests. I nod. We walk towards the targets. He hands me a rifle. 

I lock it, load it, line up my shot, and pull the trigger. It hits an inch higher than the target. I glance at Jason. He nods, gesturing for me to shoot again. 

I hit the bulls-eye, then a couple inches to the left, then the bulls-eye, then two shots about an inch to the right. 

"So, your aim's pretty good. Try pulling the trigger slower, so you don't shift your aim as you fire it. Let's see what you can do with a moving target," he suggests. Crap. Haven't really done that, before. 

He leads me over to a different section of targets, picks up a tablet, pushes some buttons, and a moving target appears on the wall. The projection of a target zig-zags across the wall with seemingly no pattern. 

"It'll light up if you hit it," he says. I nod and take a deep breath, lining up the shot. I adjust my gun to where I think the target's going to go next. I shoot. At the last second, the target sways to the left, and I hit the outer ring. 

"Crap," I mutter. 

"Don't worry," he says. "First time hitting a moving target?" I nod. 

"Try it again. You'll get the hang of it, start seeing the patterns." 

I line up my next shot, and hit the third ring from the center of the target. He nods, telling me to shoot again. 

After two dozen more shots, I finally hit the bulls-eye. 

"Nice work," he says. "You're coachable. I like that." 

I keep myself from smiling at his praise. 

"What do you want to work on next?" He asks. 

I glance around the room, my eyes settling on the mat in the middle of the room. "Hand-to-hand?" 

He grins. "I was hoping you'd say that. I love fighting. I've also seen you fight. You're not too bad." 

"Thanks," I say. We head over to the mat. He gets into fighter's stance. Wait, I'm fighting him? Crap. I take a deep breath and bring my arms up to protect my face, bouncing around on my toes. 

I notice his shift in weight, and I'm prepared for the jab he sends to my face. I block it. Ow. This guy has a strong hit. I keep myself from rubbing my forearm, where he hit. 

He attacks with a combination of two punches and a kick. I only successfully blocked the first punch. He's strong, and fast. Great

I decide to try and get some offensive moves in. I set myself up to punch him in the stomach. Unfortunately, he blocks it easily. I try to kick his left leg out from under him. He grabs my foot and pulls me off balance. I tumble to the mat. He pins me easily, a grin on his face. 

"Ow," I mutter. He rolls off of me and pulls me to my feet. 

"You're good," he says. 

I scoff. "Yeah, the mat and I are best friends." 

"I'm serious," he says. "Not many people can block like that. But you've got to throw more fakes. Your moves are too predictable. Got it?" 

I nod. "Got it." 

"And use your knees more. Nice, bony surface. You can do some serious damage with your knees and elbows." 

"Got it." 

"Wanna learn how to get out from under a pin?" 

I nod eagerly. He grins. "That's what I thought. Let's go." 

We get back on the mat. He pins me on my stomach, sitting on my back. 

"You have to get a foot planted. Your legs are more muscular than your arms. Use your legs to roll onto your side." 

I attempt to bring one of my legs so that my foot's planted steadily on the ground. I push and try to roll myself over. 

"You have to use your arms, too," he says. "It's never just one part. You have to work with your body as a whole." 

I bring my arm and push with both my arm and leg to try and roll over. We both scamper to our feet and get into a fighter's stance. 

"Good job," he says. "You learn fast." 

He gestures towards the treadmills. "Let's see how fast you are." 

Oh, boy. 

I nod and get on a treadmill. He sets it so I'm at a jog, then increases the speed until I'm sprinting. 

"Think you can go faster?" He asks. I nod, and he increases the speed a little bit. I pant and wipe sweat from my forehead, willing my legs to move faster. He increases the speed one more increment. Oh, God, please don't make it go any faster. I'm afraid if the treadmill starts moving faster, I'll fly off the back like a boomerang. 

Fortunately, he doesn't increase the speed, and I hold the sprint for a couple minutes, before he finally decreases the speed to a slow jog. 

"You're speed is okay. Could be better, could be worse. We'll work it up," he says. "Good stamina. You do a lot of hiking?" 

I huff. "Hiked from St. Paul to about five hundred miles away from here." 

He nods. "That's good. You're strong. Easy to train. I think we'll get along good, kid," he says. 

"Yes, sir." 

He whacks me upside the head. 

"Sorry," I mutter. "Yes, McCard." 

He laughs. "That's more like it. Tomorrow we'll do some first aid, and I'll get you to talk to my Strategy friend, 'kay?" 

He slows the treadmill to a stop. I step off, wiping sweat from my forehead. "Sounds good." 

"Alright, Sky. You smell like crap. Go back to your cabin, take a shower, and meet me in the mess hall at dinner. We'll talk then, okay?"

"Got it," I say. He pats my back and jogs off, joining another couple of Elites in conversation. I suck in a deep breath and start walking towards the cabins. My muscles feel like jelly from training, and that was just an assessment. Training with him seems like it'll be fun, but intense. 

As I'm walking back, I see Amber and Morgan Murphy talking about something. Training, no doubt. Murphy pats her shoulder and they shake hands, and then Amber starts walking back to the cabin. 

I've gotta talk to her. It's been long enough. And, like Thomas said, she'll only get more and more mad the longer I go without approaching her. 

I suck in a deep breath and jog in to join her. 

"Hey, Amber," I say. 

She rolls her eyes. "What do you want, Sky?" 

I stop walking and grab her forearm. She turns to face me, fire in her eyes. 

"Can we talk?" 

She huffs. "What's there to talk about?" 

"Amber, come on." 

"I'm serious, Justin. What do you want?" 

I wish she would call me Jay again. She's the only one who ever called me that. I like having the nickname; it feels like a bond between the two of us. 

"Amber, you'll have to talk to me eventually." 

She pulls her arm out of my grip. "Eventually doesn't mean today," she retorts. 

"Amber." 

We lock eyes; the fire in hers seems to subdue a little bit. Just a little. 

"Fine. Talk." 

I take a deep breath. "Amber, I'm sorry. For being an idiot." 

"Big idiot," she mutters. 

"I know. I'm sorry I didn't appreciate you being willing to help me out, and I'm sorry I didn't talk to you sooner." 

She clenches her jaw, her eyes softening. "Why didn't you come to me earlier?" 

"I thought you hated me." 

She chews on her lip. "We were friends," she says. "I did hate you for not trying to make up with me." 

"I'm sorry," I say quietly. "Can we- Could we be... Friends? Again?" I stutter. 

She gives me a rare smile before pulling me into a tight hug. At first I cringe when I think about how terrible I must smell from training, but I hug her back anyways. She still, somehow, smells like coconut. I feel her muscles relax in my arms as she pulls me closer. 

After a moment that felt all too brief, she pulls away. She looks up at me, with a sparkle in her amber eyes. 

"'Course," she says casually. I laugh. "But you better shower before I hug you again, Jay. You reek." 

Crap

"Will do, ma'am," I say, holding up my fingers in a mock salute. She punches my shoulder. I grin at the familiar feeling. My bruise will, no doubt, come back. 

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