“Stalwarts,” The loudspeaker outside of the sim building sounds, waking Maverick up with a start. The announcement continues as he looks around the courtyard they are in, “Gather in the cafeteria immediately.”
Content that everyone was still gathered around the sim complex, Maverick glances up to the sky. He has to squint slightly as the two suns bear down on he and his team. Judging by the suns’ positions, it was about noon, when meant they still were too early for lunch.
“Great, I’m starving,” Tyson exclaims as he quickly rises to his feet. Several others join him, encouraged by the prospect of food.
“It’s too early for that,” Maverick informs the others, “This must be about the newcomer.”
“You mean the meat shield?” Jason McCollum offers with a cruel chuckle. No matter the situation, Jason managed to find some way to tell a dark joke about someone dying. Most everyone ignored the jokes, but that wasn’t always easy to do.
“He’s not a meat shield,” Maverick assures the team as he shakes his head. He looks over to Sylvia, who is still sleeping, and whispers, “Time to get up,”
“Then what else will he be good for?” Jason presses, “He hasn’t had any training!”
“I’m sure he’ll manage,” Jake speaks up after, likely seeing that no one else was going to come to the defense of the newcomer.
“Why’s that?” Meghan challenges.
“I just have a feeling,” Jake offers, “Besides, they wouldn’t just send us out to die.”I think that’s exactly what they’re doing,” Jason counters. He begins marching toward the cafeteria on his own, when he turns around, as if an idea just came to mind, “Unless you all think it’s going to be totally safe out there. No monsters, no savages, no nothing.”“That’s not what I meant,” Jake shakes his head.
Jason doesn’t stay to hear Jake’s defense, and he stalks off. Several others follow Jason anxiously, as they usually did after he thought he won an argument. This never ceased to annoy Maverick, who was the better leader. He didn’t think he was the best leader, per se, but Maverick knew he was better than Jason ever would be. Jason was a hothead, who seemingly only cared for himself. Several others saw that he was vying for the leadership role.
“Why the others follow him, I will never know,” Sylvia mutters under her breath as she shakes her head. She rises to her feet and walks a few steps before stopping and turning back to Maverick, “What’s wrong?”
“The ship the new guy came on, Maverick starts as he points toward the hangar, “It was on fire.”
“On fire?” Sylvia asks as she tilts her head to the side.
“Yeah, it looked like they were hit, or something,” Maverick nods absently. He pauses, still off put by Jason’s words. Looking down, Maverick thinks to himself, I bet Jason just wants to be in charge so he can rub my nose in it. He doesn’t care about the others. At least not like I do.
“Maybe they just haven’t been keeping their ships maintained,” Sylvia offers, “I mean, just look at this place. They keep the grass cut, but the buildings aren’t doing too hot.”
“I don’t think so,” Maverick maintains, “It didn’t look like that.”
“Well, I’m sure the newbie will tell us all about it,” Sylvia announces with a smile, “Come on!”
Maverick stands and nods at Sylvia. As always, she was right. If Maverick had it his way, he’d have Sylvia in charge. The girl had a knack for it, the only issue was that she wouldn’t speak to anyone other than him. Sure, she’d say one or two things to the others every now and then, but that was rare.
“What do you think the new guy is like?” Meghan asks once she sees that Sylvia was done talking.
“I hope he’s cute,” Anne butts in with a wink.
“We don’t even know if it’s a guy yet,” Maverick chuckles as Meghan gives Anne a jealous look. Meghan had made it clear to the group on several occasions that the next guy who joined the team was hers. She repeated time and time again that she had dibs.
“Oh, it’s a guy alright,” Meghan announces, standing her ground. She continues as she sniffs the air, “I can smell him.”
Maverick laughs and the others within earshot at Meghan’s act. The girl had a way with catching you off-guard with the strangest jokes. Shaking his head, Maverick turns to look back at the hangar, which was still sealed off. Oddly enough, there had been no alarms, or much of anything else, when the gunship arrived. It was almost as if no one was worried about being attacked. No, the savages had never attacked a city, but that didn’t mean they never would. Their attacks had grown more bold, as of late. As far as Maverick could tell, they took a shot at least half of the ships that visited.
“Let’s get in there and find out,” Maverick instructs those who had remained after Jason left, “Maybe they’ll give us an early lunch as well.”
“If you don’t like him, can I have him?” Anne asks Meghan with a hopeful look.
“If I don’t like him, I’ll kill him myself,” Meghan replies flatly. Maverick gives her a sidelong glance in concern. After a few moments, he still can’t tell if Meghan was kidding.
“You could have just said lunch,” Tyson laughs, doing his best to ignore Meghan’s comment.
“I wish I had,” Maverick breathes back to Tyson with a chuckle.“Should we keep an eye on her?” Jake whispers once he and Maverick had started for the cafeteria.
“I heard that,” Meghan whispers as she brushes past Jake. She continues with a wink, “Welcome to my hit list.”
Jake stops dead in his tracks as Meghan continues on into the cafeteria. He looks over to Maverick with a look of fear in his eyes. Jake and Maverick were some of the few people who knew why Meghan was sent to Paradise. As the story went, Meghan killed somebody from her Dome. Of course, they didn’t know the whole story, but they knew just enough to be scared.
“You’re fine,” Maverick tells Jake after a beat, “She was kidding.”
“We don’t know that,” Jake counters after he ensures Meghan is out of earshot.
Maverick shakes his head with a chuckle and enters the cafeteria. Inside, he immediately notices that all of the tables are nearly buried in all sorts of gear. Everything from empty packs to notebooks are heaped into great piles, seemingly without any organization at all. At the front of the cafeteria stands the Warden, a few guards, and several officers. Standing in front of them is a kid about Maverick’s age, who he assumes is the newcomer.
“What have I gotten myself into?” Gideon asks himself as he lets his head drop. He absently rubs his face as he struggles to make sense of everything that had transpired since he had been arrested.