Chapter 4 - Part 3

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Awakening: Prodigy a dark fantasy novel

He referred to the schedule. Their last stop had been Clearwater, some two hours prior. According to the recalculated schedule, he would be arriving at the Academy in forty-five minutes. If his journey was coming to an end, then he could get started on his work. He swiped his wrist in front of the waiting black sphere to reactivate his virtual user interface. His body ached with remembered pain. He hoped that the false reality of the dream would fade quickly. He accessed his account with the Academy.

His feed filled with an advert promoting the new Apprenticeship program for the Red Order. He reconsidered the program for a moment, looking over the additional information packet that the application provided. 'Hone your skills to be the very best. Defend your loved one from demonic forces.' It boasted. It included an application form, granting the Red Order permission to access his educational and medical records, among others. He noted that for all of their big promises they didn't reveal how they would be shaping their candidates into Hunters. As far as the application process went, they would be tested physically and through a written exam. Only one of the selections processes made any real sense to Seth. With no outline to focus his training around, the program was of no benefit for him. He declined the offering and moved on to his growing list of chores.

His educational apps appeared along with cultural activities, meal plan selection, job boards, and the military games. He accessed his meal plan app, highlighting that he would like a small lunch sent to his command center, entering in his best guess at his arrival time after the registration process. Exact meal items were restricted to what happened to be available and the chef's whims. In the event that the meal was not to his liking he could, return the meal untouched to reclaim his credits. A tally of his requested services was totaled, revealing how much funds he would have remaining should he wish to have his order processed. Not a serious dent on his credits account, but he'd have to be mindful not to have food brought to him too often. He hit accept.

He dreaded clicking on his military games app. He would be inundated with applications regardless of whether or not he had a position open. With Regina getting married, and the potential of her leaving meant that there was a good chance that he'd have triple the applicants compared to what he had last year. He hoped that no one had heard that fan favorite, Wallace Rivera, had submitted his resignation in early August. No reason was provided. It was infuriating. Seth had sent Wallace messages almost daily, asking his former teammate to reconsider. Wallace never did reply to his messages. He doubted that he would reply to yet one more.

It felt sudden. The last time Seth spoke with him, he was looking forward in going down in the Academy's history books in flaming glory. Whatever changed his mind over the course of the summer must have been important. Still, Seth would have liked to have known what that was, at the very least to offer his support if Wallace needed it.

"Arriving. At. Council's Academy." The automated message chimed. Seth's digital interface vanished as the train rushed into the tunnel that would lead to the station, blanketing its passenger in darkness. It was the last stretch of their journey and soon they would be catching up with summer time gossip with friends and making plans for the year ahead.

A teal light washed over the passenger car once every thirty seconds. The light felt intrusive, washing over and through him, as though it were searching the occupant for proof of his humanity. He wondered if demons could masquerade as human. Would they do a passable job of it? Or would it be comically obvious to everyone but the demon? He always assumed that the shield acted like a wall, but he had never given it much thought until now. At one point or another, everyone wondered how exactly the shield technology managed to keep the demons out.

The lights flicked on, and the train slowed to a stop. "Welcome. To. Council's Academy." The automated voice greeted. The passenger door pushed itself open and lowered to the platform outside.

Seth pulled on his jacket, tugging at it to adjust its fit as the hem fell to his shins. A gold VII emblem was pinned to the right side of his collar, the school crest sewn over his left breast. On his right arm, a shield patch sewn on top of a pair of crossed swords informed faculty and other students that his primary major was in defensive technology, and his secondary major was in combat.

He searched his pockets, watching the students linger on the platform, no doubt waiting for friends. Pockets empty as he had left them, he proceeded to enter the arena where he would spend his last year of freedom. He was joined by other eager students making their way toward the registration office.

He followed a group of girls down the narrow corridor. Two of them to walk side by side, like some lopsided mis-creation, while their third companion struggled to keep pace behind them, often tripping on them in a valiant attempt to remain included in their excitement.

Seth assumed the narrowness of the walkway made the scanning easier without alerting the student to the process. It added to the illusion that every was normal. There is no cause for alarm. Everything is under control. The students stepped through an invisible spectrum of barriers. He had never seen anyone react to the shields, not on the train, and most certainly not here, not even the first years. When he first arrived, he had been transfixed by the bright dust particles that dances up and down the thin veil of color. In this hall was the only place on the whole campus where he could stand still and inspect the force field. He had yet to figure out a way to examine the permeable shield without attracting too much attention.

Once the students passed through the third barrier, the space opened up into a large receiving area. A waist-high barrier wound its way up and down the room, cutting off the exits for non-registrants. Tall virtual screens hovered over the divides, projecting the Council's Academy's large list of cultural activities.

'Be a Star!' One projection promised. 'Be a part of this year's cultural event. Sign up today!' The screen flashed a few choice scenes from the previous virtual theatrical production. The drama committee always had to take their recruits by force. Everyone knew that the star of whatever disaster they aired was going to be the captain of the committee, secondary roles to her clique. They were always short of people to do the less glamorous work. 'No way I'm going to be a part of that disaster,' Seth mused.

"Next!" one of the three receptionists called. The line shuffled forward. Two more students and it would be his turn.

Recruitment ads for the military games replaced the cultural listing, each screen taken up by one team's promotional footage. It wasn't unusual to need to recruit four new members yearly, unless shady politics got involved. One by one, the squads flashed their banners in sequence; members slid across the screens, followed by a highlight segment. He watched himself callously shoot down his opponent at close range, plucking the victory token from her stunned grip, a move that lead his team to victory.

He covered his face, blocking the projection from view. Why that shot? Forget it, he knew why that shot. It made him look strong, relentless, the very image of strength over adversity. Take no prisoners had been his squads motto long before he had been recruited. Without context, that whole scene was everything he was not.

The recruitment ad for the Red Order Apprenticeship Program lit up the screens just as a receptionist called, "Next!"

Seth put on his best smile, hoping to add some level of warmth to his sour-faced receptionist. "Good morning." His friendliness only added to her misery. "Scan in," she snapped gesturing to the black plate on his side of the glass divide.

He passed his wrist over the plate. His data reflected back at him through her glasses. "Name."

"Seth Wright?" He was never sure how to approach the question. His details were right there. She scowled at him, eyes darting from his digital photo to him and back again. "Date of birth."

"July 23rd, 438," he replied.

"Year of study."

"4th, final year." This wasn't normal. They should have scanned him and then handed him his tablet, welcoming him to the Council's Academy. "Field of Study."

"Major in Technology, Minor in Military Combat." She didn't even bother to glance at the badges on his arm even when he presented them to her. "Place of residence."

"Capitol City, 25th Level."

"This is where we can send your gear to upon completion of your term?"

"No." She arched a brow made a note. "Where are you headed after the completion of your term?"

"The E.M.I." His pulse raced. He was sure his smile was lopsided by now. He was sure the other students didn't have to go through all this. "Do you have any records supporting your plans."

"Umm no, I'll be registering for the summer term. They don't do waiting lists. Is there a problem?" He regretted the question the instant the words fell from his mouth. "Please take a seat in the waiting room." She gestured to his right.

"May I ask what's going on?"

"Please take a seat in the waiting room." She repeated in a tone that suggested that his problems could only get exponentially worse if he persisted with this being friendly non-sense. He nodded acknowledging the order and proceeded to the entryway on the right of the receiving area. He took a moment to watch the other students, comparing his list of questions with theirs. There was very little satisfaction in knowing that they were being subjected to the same standard of ridiculous questions.

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