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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19. nineteen

"Sit with your friends at lunch today, kid. You've been training hard. Take a break," Jason says. I nod gratefully; the past couple of weeks, I've been sitting with him at every meal to talk about training. He's filled me in on what's been going on with the Services, and I've talked with the other Rookies about what they've learned from their Elites. We don't know much; just that they're setting up camps outside of our main camp. 

"But you better be at training at one," he adds. I nod again. 

"I'll be there." 

He grins. "I know you will. You've never missed a training. Keep up with that effort, and you'll have a mission in no time." 

I'm sure that I will have a mission, but no thanks to myself. Jason and I have been training together, and we make a crazy good team. There are these competition-like games that we have twice a week, where all the teams of Elites and Rookies compete in these obstacle courses. We've gotten second every week, following, of course, Morgan Murphy and Amber Jeffries. No surprise there. Those girls are badass. 

I grab my tray and sit at my normal spot on the end of the Rookie table. Jack, Cynthia, Amber, and Alex are already there. Jason's one of the only Elites that actually wants to spend meal-times with me; the others don't really want to be seen in public with their subordinates. I like that about him; it shows how casual he is, how little he cares about what anyone else thinks. 

"Hey, Jay," Amber says with a grin. "Finally decide to join us for lunch?" I'm glad she's gone back to calling me 'Jay.' Hell, I'm glad she's gone back to talking with me, sitting with me, being friends with me... 

"Not my choice," I say with a laugh. "Jason's finally let me sit where I want." 

Jack shakes his head. "Still can't believe you actually call him by his first name. It's weird." 

I frown. "He's, like, two years older than me. It'd be weird to call him anything else." 

"Whatever," Cynthia cuts in. "We're still going to kick all of your asses in the game today." 

"Yeah, right!" Amber snorts. "You guys have come in fourth, like, every week." 

"Shut up!" Cynthia complains. "It's not like the games matter anyways. They haven't issued a mission since we partnered with the Elites." 

"When do you think there'll be a mission to see the camps around our base?" Alex wonders. 

"Pretty soon, probably," Jack says. 

I nod. "Either it's happening really soon, or they had a mission a while ago and just didn't tell us about it." 

Neither option would surprise me. 

"What time is training?" Jack asks. Amber checks her watch. 

"Two," she says. I groan. Jason's been training me harder than any of the other recruits are being trained, and, while I don't object to it, I feel bad missing out on lunches and free time with my friends. But still; if I want a mission, he'll get me a mission. 

"I have to be there at one," I say. 

"Why the hell is he grilling you so hard?" Cynthia asks. I shrug, even though I know. Not only does he want to train me so we're a good team, I'm sure he wants to prove his worth as the youngest Elite ever. Or so I'm told. 

"It's annoying," Amber complains. "You'd think he could share you, once in a while." 

I laugh, glancing over at his table. In my normal seat is a pretty blonde girl who looks around Jason's age. His girlfriend, probably. I've seen her watching our training from time to time; she's the so-called strategy expert that Jason had me learn from. I watch as they sit as their table and laugh. It's easy to imagine myself and Amber in that position, with both of the girls tall and blonde, and both me and Jason tall and brown-haired. I can't help but envy how comfortable they are with each other. I'd give anything for Amber to be mine. 

"Jay?" I snap my focus back to my own table. Huh. I do get distracted easily

"Yeah? Sorry," I say quickly. 

"I asked when you were getting out of training," Amber says, her golden eyes piercing mine. 

"Um... Five, I think? He might want to hold me back for something," I answer. And it's true; Although training is supposed to get out at five for dinner at six, Jason normally holds me back to discuss. Plus, I normally spend my dinners with my mentor. 

I check my watch. 12:45. 

"Crap, I've gotta go, guys," I groan. "Training in fifteen." 

"Later," Jack says. 

"Bye," Amber says. 

"Adios," Cynthia and Alex both say at the same time. 

"Later guys," I say with a laugh. 

I stand up and jog back to the cabins, pull on my workout gear, and jog to the training room. I open the door to the Elite's special training room. Jason and Dean Marshall are waiting for me. This should be good

"Sir," I say, nodding towards Dean Marshall. He nods in return. "What's going on?" 

"Nothing," Jason says. I raise an eyebrow at him. "We were just talking. You'll find out with the other Rookies." 

I groan. "Start on the targets," Jason orders me. Someone's very down-to-business today, now, isn't he? 

I nod and make my way silently over to the targets, trying to listen in on the conversation Marshall is having with Jason. 

I don't hear much, but they're definitely talking about the Services; I hear them mention 'Restoration and Protection' multiple times. I keep shooting; over the past few weeks, my accuracy has improved by a lot. On the moving targets, I have an eighty-percent accuracy rating. A big improvement from barely grazing the target on the first day. 

After an hour of shooting, the other kids join the room. Amber takes the target next to me. 

"What's Marshall doing in here?" I shrug. 

"No idea," I say. I'm not surprised when Amber hits the moving target dead center. "Nice," I say. 

She gives me a mock bow. God, it's nice being friends with her again. 

After thirty minutes of training, Dean Marshall calls us to the center of the room. The Elites stand on one training mat, the Rookies on another. 

"Alright, ladies and gentlemen," he says, glancing around the room. "General Travis couldn't join us today, but I'm here to introduce a mission." 

"Cool," I mutter under my breath. Maybe now, I'll finally have a shot. 

"Before you get too excited, let me explain the mission. It's a dangerous one. Only two people will be involved; an Elite and their Rookie. Technically, only one person is needed, but we'd like to give the Rookies a shot. You'll be going straight into a Service camp. As you all probably know, there are a lot of camps around our base. The largest one is seven miles from here; you'll be going there.

"Any questions?" He asks, scanning the room. Nobody speaks up. 

"Anyways," he continues. "It's going to be an in-and-out mission. The pair will head in via ATV, plant a bomb, and get the hell out before they're killed. There are about thirty Service officers at this camp, so if it comes down to combat, you'll be seriously outnumbered. It's all about stealth." 

He turns to the Elites. He gestures towards Liam's Elite. "Your Rookie ready?" I glance at Liam, who's smirking with eagerness and excitement in his eyes. 

"No, sir," the Elite says. I bite my tongue to keep from laughing as Liam's face falls. "Liam here is too cocky. He'd charge into the camp, expecting to win in combat, and get us both killed." 

"Okay, Liam's out." Marshall turns to Alex's Elite. "Alex?" 

"She's good. She'd be good in the stealth mission," her Elite says. "But her aim's not where it should be. If we had to shoot, she wouldn't be able to defend herself." 

"Alice?" 

"No good at strategy. I'd have no help planning the whole thing." 

"Jack?" 

"He's good at hand-to-hand. Good aim. He'd be pretty good." 

"Okay, Jack's on the list." 

"Axel?" 

"He's too quiet. Not aggressive enough." 

"That's not a reason for him not to go. Axel's on the list." 

"Murphy? How's Amber doing." 

Morgan Murphy grins. "She's perfect. Aim's good, great at strategy, good at hand-to-hand. She's a damned good soldier, sir." 

"Amber, you're on the list." 

"What about Justin?" Marshall asks, turning to Jason McCard. I gulp. 

"His aim's good, he's good in combat. Fast thinker. Quick on his feet. He's good, sir." 

I grin. Jason glances at me and winks. I nod at him gratefully. 

"Justin, you're on the list." 

Amber catches my glance and grins. Nice, she mouths. Thanks, I mouth back. 

After going through all of the other recruits, three more people were added to this hypothetical "list," with a grand total of seven possible Rookies. 

"Okay. Amber, Axel, Jack, Justin, Michael, Svea, and Bradley. You and your Elites, stay behind. Everyone else, head to dinner." There are a lot of disappointed huffs as the other thirteen recruits and Elites leave the room. I see Liam shooting his Elite dirty looks. 

"This mission will involve good aim, stealth, and strategy. Not so much hand-to-hand." We all nod. 

"Amber, Bradley, and Michael. You've already had missions. That makes you more experienced than the other four." 

Crap. Does this mean I'm out? 

"Unfortunately, that may translate into you three thinking you know more than you do and being cocky. Will that be the case?" 

"No, sir," Amber, Bradley, and Michael say in unison. 

"Good. Then you all have an even shot. It's down to the Elites, now." 

Marshall eyes the Elites up and down. 

"Murphy. You're one of the best Elites we've ever seen. You've been in the army for thirteen years. You're experienced, you aren't cocky. But you're a leader. You're too valuable. You and Amber are out." 

"Yes, sir," Morgan Murphy says. She and Amber exit the room. 

"Smith," he says, looking at Jack's Elite. "You're a first-aid recruit. That won't be needed on this mission. You two are out." Jack sighs and exits the room. 

"Chen. You're working on your project. You're needed elsewhere." 

Chen and Axel leave the room. 

"McCard." Oh, boy. "You're new. You're virtually inexperienced. But, you're also one of the best recruits we've seen in a while. Plus, you're not tied down by any projects." I glance at Jason; he gulps. 

"You've got good aim, you're a fast thinker, and you know how to instruct others." Marshall glances at the other pairs, then taps his chin. He takes a moment, apparently mulling over whether or not he likes Jason enough. Please, God, please let him like Jason enough.

 "You all can leave. Jason and Justin have this mission." Michael nods to me in congratulations as they walk out of the room. 

Jason smirks. 

"Thank you, sir," he says. 

"You guys leave tomorrow night. Jason, meet me in my office tomorrow morning for details. Fill in your Rookie after. Got it?" 

"Yes, sir." 

"Good. Get some dinner and some rest," he instructs. 

"Thank you, sir," I say. He nods. 

Jason and I walk out of the room and towards the cafeteria. 

"Looks like you got yourself a mission, kid," he says. I grin. "Sit with your friends, again. I'd reckon you've earned yourself some bragging rights." 

"Thanks, McCard," I say. 

"Go sit with them before I change my mind." 

I salute him jokingly. 

"I'm serious!" He laughs. "Get out of here." 

I jog to the cafeteria and sit down at my normal seat. 

Amber punches my shoulder repeatedly. "You got a mission!" She practically yells in my ear. "'Bout time!" 

"Um... Ow?" I say with a laugh, holding my hand to my ear. 

"Congrats, man," Jack says. 

"Don't die," Cynthia says sarcastically. I roll my eyes. 

"I won't!" I say. "I'm sure it's not as dangerous as Marshall said." 

Amber gives me a pointed look. I ignore her and turn to my vegetables. 

"When do you guys leave?" She asks. 

"Tomorrow night," I say. 

"You're so lucky," she mutters. 

I grin. "You're the one who got the first mission," I say. "You're still the coolest." 

She laughs. "Don't you know it!"

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