“He’s a lot cuter than I expected,” Anne mutters as loudly as she can without moving her lips. Several of the other Stalwarts chuckle silently, but the Warden doesn’t seem to notice her quip.
Maverick eyes the newcomer and he quickly takes a liking to him. The kid stood tall and proud and he seemed very observant as well. Maverick chuckles as he sees that the newcomer’s mental gears are rapidly turning as he takes everything in. About time we got ourselves someone else who is smart, Maverick thinks as he shoots a sideways glance at everyone one his team. By no means was he saying that anyone else on his team were dumb, they were all sharp as tacks. Everyone definitely was good at something. There simply was a lack in hyper-observant quick thinkers, a spot which Maverick is convinced the newcomer would fill.
After nearly a minute, Director Stone finally announces, “This is Gideon Lennox. He is the final addition to your team.”
“Does that mean that we’re finally heading out?” One of the Stalwarts asks excitedly. Maverick glances over and sees that the girl that had spoken up was the overweight and ever-hotheaded Dannielle Washburn, or Danni, as she tried to force everyone to call her. Despite her wishes, no one called her Danni. Maverick reasoned that this was because no one could stand the girl.
Frowning, Maverick hoped that this would not be the case. Very few people on his team were even remotely ready to survive a night outside of their barracks—much less out in the wild. Despite the facts, several of the other Stalwarts have been pushing for a chance to get out of their training early and get on with things. Maverick isn’t sure if they just want to end it all and die out there, or if they were dumb enough to think they were ready for the outside world, but he did know that he was going to make the most of every waning moment he had left in Paradise.
Director Stone looks over to Dannielle and cocks her head slightly before she regains her composure. She likely knew as well as Maverick did that Dannielle was probably the worst off out of all the Stalwarts. After a moment, Stone finally replies, “It means you will be mobilizing the moment young Gideon finishes his competence tests.”
“How long will that take?” Maverick asks, a hint of concern in his voice.
“Approximately an hour,” Director Stone replies as she allows a slight smile to show on her face. She had taken a liking to Maverick, likely because he was such a realist and knew what his team always needed. Sure, Maverick made things difficult for Stone, and he all but encouraged naughty behavior to make her job more difficult, but she somehow knew he was going to see to it that her students—the Stalwarts—would be given their best chance at survival. Her smile quickly disappears as she returns to her usual serious look and she instructs, “You had best begin packing your belongings for the other side.”
“Understood,” Maverick nods slowly. Frowning, Maverick’s extremities grow cold and his heart starts beating irregularly. His team was nowhere near ready for the wilds. Despite his ability to mask most of his concern outwardly, Maverick’s mind races, This is it. This is really it. We’re heading out for real. No more sims, no more hot meals in the cafeteria, no more soft beds. Well, I guess we never really had soft beds, per se, but at least they were beds.
As if she could read his mind, the Warden announces, “If there are any more questions or concerns, please voice them now.”
When no one speaks up, Maverick makes eye contact with Director Stone and he silently begs her to recant her order. She shakes her head ever so slightly, telling him that there was no going back now. Then, if Maverick isn’t mistaking, a few tears begin to form in the stoic Warden’s eyes. Likely unwilling to let anyone see her cry, Director Stone spins around on her heels and makes for the exit.
“Welcome to the family, Gideon,” Jake smiles warmly at the newcomer as everyone relaxes. The Warden always made everyone stand at attention when she was around, which made it even more difficult to like her. And yet, everyone still seemed to have a certain level of respect and admiration for her.
“Thanks,” the newcomer, Gideon smiles back before one of the guards whispers something into his ear. Gideon nods to them before closing the distance between him and the rest of the Stalwarts. Once he is a lot closer, he smiles apologetically and continues, “I’ll stall as much as I can while I take the test so all of you can get everything you’ll need.”
“We don’t need anything, we’ll be fine,” Dannielle snaps as she glowers at Gideon.
Maverick shoots Dannielle a confused look before cutting in, “Thanks, Gideon, that’ll be great.”
Gideon nods to him slowly, likely taken aback by Dannielle’s rudeness. After a beat, he scans all the other Stalwarts before his eyes seem to settle on Sylvia. Maverick is about to say something when he sees Sylvia shake her head slightly, as if telling Gideon to not say whatever he was about to. Confused, Maverick is about to say something when Sylvia cuts in.
“Let’s get geared up,” Sylvia announces dutifully, “Remember what I always say, it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Besides, we can always leave our extra supplies somewhere out there if we don’t want to lug it around.”
“And don’t forget to pack lots of food!” Tyson calls out urgently. He tries to keep a serious face before he starts laughing.
“He’s got a point,” Anne points out, “We don’t know what all there is to eat out there.”
“Eh, that’s not completely true,” Tyson argues, “I spent the last few months studying what all there was to eat out there. We should be able to eat like kings so long as we are willing to eat some strange things.”
“Is there anything you would like me to pack for you, Gideon?” Meghan asks before she levels a threatening stare at Anne. Anne quickly shies away from Meghan’s challenge, leaving Meghan to claim her prize.
“No, I should be alright, thanks,” Gideon responds before the guard that had whispered something into his ear earlier comes up behind him. The guard then ushers Gideon away before he has a chance to say any more.
“I wonder what the rush is,” Sylvia muses as she and Maverick watch Gideon disappear.
“Oh, you’re wondering? What about me?” Meghan demands weakly before she starts pouting, “I was supposed to be able to at least talk to him a little while!”
“I’m pretty sure we’ll have plenty of time to do that soon enough,” Maverick chuckles as he tries to keep a positive outlook on what was about to happen to them.
“That’s if you two survive the first night,” Jason points out pessimistically. He looks over to the Stalwarts that look up to him as a leader before he continues in a mocking tone, “I know my people will make it though.”
“We’ll be fine,” Maverick assures those around him confidently as he gives Jason an irritated look.
Maverick had done his best to shrug off Jason’s negativity and all of his attempts to steal the command of his Stalwarts for quite a while now, but suddenly he lost the urge to keep the peace. It was one thing to be a pessimist and Maverick could deal with someone trying to steal his command. But telling people that they were going to die crossed a line Maverick didn’t know he had. Before he knew what he was doing, Maverick is swinging at Jason.
Maverick’s first strike makes contact with Jason’s chin and he starts crumbling to the ground. But, despite Maverick’s best efforts, he continues punching the now unconscious form of his main enemy. It was like something finally snapped within him.
“—Stop it! You’re better than this!” Maverick hears Sylvia plea after what felt like an eternity.
Sylvia’s words somehow manage to help Maverick regain his control and he leaps away from Jason’s bloodied body. Shocked at what he had just done, Maverick stammers, trying to come up with something to say, as everyone stares at him in shock. Maverick’s heart is still pounding in his ears has he shudders.
The next thing Maverick knew, he is throwing up on the floor beside Jason. After a while, Maverick thinks that his stomach is empty and he tries to rise to his feet. As he tries to do so, Maverick catches a glimpse of his bloodied knuckles and he finds himself vomiting up sour bile instead of grotesque chucks of food.
“You alright?” Jake asks worriedly once Maverick slows down.
“No,” Maverick sputters.
“What was that?” Jake asks, likely suspecting that Maverick had lost control for a brief moment.
Before he had time to think, Maverick replies, “No one tells my people that they aren’t good enough to make it.”
“Alright, that’s touching and all, but what about Jason?” Meghan asks as she stoops beside Jason’s body. She and Maverick watch for a moment and they both let out sighs of relief when Jason takes a shallow breath.
“Leave him,” a guard instructs from nearby. Maverick and several other Stalwarts jump as they realize that someone else had watched everything unfold.
“But he won’t have a chance to pack,” Sylvia argues, “We need to wake him up!”
“That’s not your problem,” The guard maintains, “I’ll send him along if he wakes up in time.”
Clearly unsatisfied with the guard’s response, Sylvia presses, “But we—”
“Get a move on,” the guard interrupts, “You don’t have all day.”
“Let’s go, boss,” Jake prompts Maverick as he unsuccessfully tries to pull him to his feet.
Feeling light-headed, Maverick refuses to move. Everything within him was screaming that something is amiss, and he had no idea what it was. In a brief moment of clarity, Maverick chuckles and asks, “Did you just call me boss?”
“So what if I did?” Jake says dismissively as he tugs once more on Maverick’s shoulder. When Maverick fails to get up once more, he begs, “Please get up, I don’t want to see what the Warden will do to you for this stunt.”
“We have a lot of packing to do too,” Sylvia adds as she gingerly helps Jake. With the combined effort of the two of them, Maverick is lifted up to his unsteady feet.
“It was about time someone knocked that jerk’s lights out, Maverick,” Meghan offers, doing her best to lift his spirits. Everyone laughs at this, Maverick included. Once he finishes laughing, Maverick feels markedly better.
“I’m just mad it wasn’t me,” Jake grumbles, “But it’s probably better this way.”
Maverick chuckles at Jake’s words before he asks, “And why’s that?”
“Because I would have left him for the hybrids,” Jake replies simply. He remains silent as he and Sylvia help Maverick stagger along before he feels compelled by their cautious stares to explain himself, “I know it sounds extreme, but he really is a menace. I’m sure that he would do the same to any of us in a heartbeat.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s right,” Maverick groans as he regains full control over his legs.
“Says the guy who just beat him to a pulp!” Anne declares enthusiastically. Her gusto makes everyone laugh once more, and Maverick can’t help but feel safe in the company of his friends.
“Well, we all know he had it coming,” Maverick offers as he begins walking on his own.
“That doesn’t make it right,” Sylvia whispers, seemingly to herself. Maverick glances over to her and sees the worry on her face.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what happened to me,” Maverick apologizes as he looks down to the ground in shame. He had never lost control like that before, and that’s what terrified him more than anything.
“Your breath stinks,” Sylvia announces suddenly in what seems to be an attempt to change the subject.
“I’m glad I wasn’t the only one thinking that!” Jake chimes in.
Always keen to join in on every conversation, Anne adds, “And I think we all need a shower after today’s sim.”
“I’m not sure if showers are that important right now,” Maverick chuckles as he runs through a mental list of gear that he wanted to pack.
“They are if you smell like you then a shower is very important!” Anne counters with a playful wink.
Meghan cocks her head as she considers Anne’s argument before she finally pipes in, “It would be the only decent shower we’ll be having for quite some time.”
“You guys can wash up,” Maverick cedes. He takes a hold of Sylvia’s hand and continues toward the armory before he announces, “Sylvia and I have something to talk about.”
“Well, I know I won’t be saving any soap for Sylvia,” Meghan declares mischievously, “I’m using every last drop that they’ve got in there.”
“I didn’t even think about soap…” Tyson sounds as he makes a faraway look. After a moment, he shares a mastermind plot he just made up, “I’m going to grab all the soap I can from our locker room so we’ll be able to wash up when we’re out there.”
“Good idea,” Maverick nods as he and Sylvia walk past the men’s and women’s’ locker rooms. The others split off into their respective locker rooms as Maverick and Sylvia continue on ahead.
“So, what did you want to talk about?” Sylvia asks after an extended awkward silence.
Maverick nods once as he tries to remember what he had to say. He had gotten so absorbed in the list of supplies that he wanted to bring along that he had let it slip. After a beat, he remembers and he asks, “What was it between that Gideon guy and you?”
“What are you walking about?” Sylvia asks curiously. If he was talking to anyone else, Maverick would think that she was hiding something, but he and Sylvia didn’t keep any secrets.
“He seems to have recognized you, did you two know each other?” Maverick tries to fill in any blanks for her.
“I don’t know… no, we never met,” Sylvia shakes her head. She starts several sentences as she tries to continue before finally whispering, “We can’t talk about this in here. I’ll tell you more when we’re outside.”
Talk more when we’re outside? Maverick thinks in surprise, Either she’s keeping something from me, or something really weird is going on.
“Mister Gracian, a word please,” Director Stone requests from seemingly out of nowhere. Maverick slides to a stop and spins around. Now facing Director Stone, Maverick is greeted with the Warden’s expectant stare.
“Yes, ma’am,” Maverick nods as an impending sense of doom overwhelms him momentarily.
“Alone,” Director Stone clarifies as she looks over to Sylvia.
“I’ll see you in the armory,” Sylvia assures Maverick before making a swift retreat.
Wondering why this message had to be private, Maverick quickly asks, “What is it?”