I don’t think death will be that bad. Especially after what I had just gone through.
Just when I’m about to hit the water, I squeeze my eyes shut. I don’t want to see the cause of my death, I only want to die. There’s really no point to live anymore. I didn’t get the cup, Will could be dead or worse. Nothing waits for me back at Vido’s.
When I finally hit the ocean, I’m beyond confused. I’m alive, for one thing, and there’s no water shooting up my nose. I’ve never visited the ocean on a day when there was no water.
“Welcome back, Ms. Patterson.” A familiar voice tells me.
I roll over onto my back and look around. There’s a bright light blaring down on me, but it’s definitely not the sun. None of this is making any sense. I was just hurtling toward the ocean. How did I end up here instead of with the fish?
“Are you even going to acknowledge me?”
I immediately stand and straighten my clothes. “Sorry, Professor Clemet. It’s just… I don’t know… what the hell is going on?”
“Language,” she responds curtly. She looks hard at me before continuing. “You do know, Ms. Patterson, that you have just partaken in the Vido Qualifier test. It has been scheduled for you to do so for months now. Needless to say, you have failed.
My heart sinks. I was hoping that I had assumed wrong and that there was some other explanation for all of the crazy things that I just went through. Now that she’s confirmed my greatest fear, it becomes real.
“You sent Colton to distract me, didn’t you?” I ask.
A deep laugh comes from behind me. “I did a good job at that, didn’t I?” I turn around to face Colton, narrowing my eyes. The smug look on his face makes me want to jump and tackle him, maybe place a few quick jabs to the stomach. He’s always been too confident for his abilities.
“Shut it, Colton. Wait until I—"
“Ms. Patterson,” Clemet says, cutting me off. “There are more pressing matters at hand. You can duel it out with Mr. Mitra later.”
I can’t argue with her. Talking back to professors is frowned upon here, to say the least. Respect is one of the top priorities here at Vido’s. As much as I don’t want to, I turn my back to Colton. He was only completing his mission like I was. Can I really hate him for that?
Clemet looks at me expectantly, her arms crossed. I feel like I’m missing out on something. I try to recall everything I’ve ever been told about the VQ, but there isn’t anything. All I knew was that it was given to the fifth levels and whoever failed was out. There’s no protocol for what to do after you complete the test.
“You will visit the headmaster directly after leaving this room,” she tells me, quite impatiently. “He has many things to discuss with you. You are dismissed.” Before I can ask her anything else, she leaves the room.
I stand there for a while, looking around. The room was one I’d never been in before. I think I would remember being in a room full of padded floors and walls and at least two dozen projectors. Was this where the VQ took place? Maybe I wasn’t actually anywhere, only inside a simulation meant to feel real. I look down at bad leg and sure enough, no bullet is sticking out of it. My skin hasn’t even been grazed.
“You know,” Colton says, walking to stand in front of me. “I expected more out of you. They said you’d become the first candidate to pass the VQ early. Said you were a natural. Guess they were wrong.”
I glower. “It’s not that easy. I want to see you pass it.”
“I’m sure I can,” he responds, that dumb smirk on his face. “Or at least do better than you did.”
“Stop being so damn cocky. You’re not the best and you never will be.”
He only shakes his head. “I don’t want to be the best. I just want to see you fail. You think that you own everything, that you’re the only one here who knows anything. Open your eyes, Bryn. Everyone here is good enough to be an agent, not just you. You're so pretentious.”
I launch at him and tackle him to the floor. Whatever I do next goes by in a blur. All I know is that my fists hit him more times than they should.
Someone pulls me off of him. I lash out against them, trying to get back to Colton. The fight isn’t over. I don’t care how bad I hurt him. He needs to know not to mess with me.
The last thing I see before I’m dragged out of the room is Colton’s nose covered with a large towel, dripping with blood.
* * *
“Ah, Bryn, have a seat.” Caddarick barely looks up as he motions for me to sit. I think we’ve reached the point when we’re tired of seeing each other. The man who led me into the office forces me into a chair. I turn to snap at him, but he’s already gone.
Caddarick’s office has become like a second home to me. I spend just as much time here as I do anywhere else. It’s not always for something I did, but usually it is. I’m sure I’ve been in here more times than any other kid to every pass through Vido’s.
The walls are an ugly maroon color and clash with the grayish blue carpet. His desk is in the exact middle of the room. That’s how he likes everything: precise – which is why the chairs are exactly balanced at each end of the desk and the books on the shelves behind him are in alphabetical order.
“Do you know what I don’t appreciate?” Caddarick asks, finally looking up from whatever’s on his desk that’s so important.
I lean back and cross my arms, which receives a look from him.
I roll my eyes. “What don’t you appreciate?” I already know what he’s going to say. I’ve had this conversation with him before, many times.
“I don’t appreciate when people create problems out of nothing. Mr. Mitra was only completing his assignment, just as you were. That does not give you the right to attack him.”
“You didn’t hear what he was saying—"
“I don’t care,” he responds curtly. “I just want it to stop. No more fights with Colton, understood?” He knows that I’m not going to agree to that, yet he tells me anyway. He understands me more than any other professor in this school. Why would he be telling me this when he knows that Colton is always the one who starts it?
“Now,” he starts again, reaching for the drawer next to him. He pulls out my file and places it on the desk. “We need to discuss your future here at Vido’s.”
My heart pounds. I try to remain calm on the outside, but I’m sure that I look like a mess. Besides, Caddarick can read me like a book. There isn't anything I can hide from him.
Papers crinkle as he pulls them out one by one. I recognize my registration paper, my doctor visits – which put a sour taste in my mouth – my class schedule, and a green sheet I haven’t seen before. He places all of them to the side except for the green sheet. After pulling a pen from the perfectly organized cup on his desk, he slips on his glasses and starts writing.
“I’m not going to hold you back,” he says. I can’t believe what I’m hearing. “Because you don’t need it. Your record during exercises has proven that you are farther ahead than any of your classmates, and really I could skip you right to being a candidate, but that’s something that the board and the other professors do not approve of.”
There’s nothing I can say. My mouth is hanging open and I’m left staring at him. Hearing that coming from the headmaster gives me all the confidence in the world. He wants me to jump right to being a candidate. No one becomes a candidate unless they pass the VQ, which I have just failed to do. Everything I know is being shoved off the table. Being the headmaster has a few perks I guess.
Caddarick takes off his glasses, placing them on top of the papers. Folding his hands on the desk, he looks at me intently. “Please understand that this is something special. I don’t send through kids who fail. That’s not how this school, or Vido, operates. And I’m going to abide by that.”
“So why did you send me through?” I can’t help but ask.
“I see potential in you,” he responds plainly. “You’ve got drive and spirit. Not to mention you and Mr. Anchelle make a scary good team.”
The mention of his name runs a chill down my spine. My voice is soft and weak when I say, “William. Is he okay?”
Caddarick waves a hand dismissively. “He’s fine. You don’t think we’d actually harm him, do you? The Vido Qualifier is for him just as much as it is for you. It wouldn’t be a struggle if we didn’t rattle him up a bit. Don’t you worry. He’s perfectly safe and unharmed.”
My heart leaps with joy. Will is alive; he survived. I had been so terrified that something had happened to him. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if he had been captured under my watch. But it wasn’t real, it was just all part of the test. I have to keep reminding myself that.
Caddarick rambles on about how I need to step up in classes and participate more. He says I’m getting the right marks, but the professors are less than impressed with me. I don’t blame them. I don’t actually do much in class, or pay attention most of the time. The classes don’t matter in the long run. The only way we truly get evaluated is during exercises and the VQ. Marks don’t matter when it comes down to it.
A sudden thought comes to mind. “Wait, why was it that I took the VQ so early? I could’ve spend more time studying and, you know, actually training for it. It’s totally unfair!”
A tiny smile dances across Caddarick’s lips. “Not unfair. You’re far beyond your years, Bryn. Your parents trained you well before trusting you to us.”
“I wish I could remember that,” I mutter.
He holds up a finger before pushing himself out of the chair. I watch as he heads to the bookshelf and runs a finger along the spines. He finally stops at one and lets out a small, “Ah.”
I’m confused as the rather small book lands on his desk. It’s one I’ve seen, and wondered about, many times before. The cover is green with white lines cutting through it. It’s a bit smaller than any notebooks I have, making it seem like more of a journal than a book. The pages, I see, are torn and ripped at the edges. This has been around for years.
“Take this.” Caddarick says as he slides it across to me. I reach out to open it, but his hand slams it shut. “Not here. Only open it in the safety of your dorm. And make sure you’re alone, this is for your eyes only. Think of it as… classified. I’m sure we’ll be talking again soon. Oh, and you have been excused from your classes for the rest of the day.” With that, he sends me out of his office.