The midnight trainings continued. It was difficult to tell if you were learning anything.
MJ wouldn’t let you hit each other with full force. The most you could do was tap at each other with fists or open palms. MJ also wouldn’t permit you to fight any of the other children. You and Little Sister were only allowed to watch the evening fights. Before you began your training each night, MJ asked what you saw. She never commented on your retellings and never told you what to look for.
Though MJ never mentioned the training to the other children, there were still visitors. On the fifth night of training, two children crept up to the room. Once you noticed them, you and Little Sister stopped jabbing at each other. MJ’s gaze flicked over to them and then returned to you.
“Go, go, go,” she said. “Again. Hands up.”
You and Little Sister turned back to each other. Little Sister’s balled up fist tapped at your stomach. When you glanced at the doorway again, the pair had disappeared.
The sixth night, there were three children watching from the doorway. One of the children tried to join you, easing her way slowly into the room. MJ approached the girl. She sucked on her lower lip and pointed toward the middle of the room.
“Can I?” she said.
MJ shook her head, gently turned her around, and nudged her back outside.
The seventh night, Pale-boy appeared. He pushed through the others to watch. MJ ignored him. Little Sister turned her head in his direction, and you accidentally hit her ear with your hand. She swatted back at you. Pale-boy started to laugh.
“Out,” MJ said. “Out now.”
Pale-boy smirked and pushed his way back out of the room.
The following evening, while you were waiting for the fights to start, Little Sister poked you in the side and pointed at the door. You both watched as MJ walked into the room and cleared a space for herself against one of the walls. She sat, folding her feet underneath herself.
Once everyone had arrived, Pale-boy strode into the center of the room and pointed to MJ. MJ did not respond. He pointed again. No response.
“Hey!” he shouted. “Hey!”
It appeared that MJ did not hear him.
Pale-boy stomped his feet against the mat and then ran up to MJ, kicking her in the knee. MJ slowly tilted her head upward and stared at him. “Want to fight?” she asked.
Pale-boy’s face flushed bright red.
MJ stretched her arms upward and rose to her feet. She stepped forward on to the mat where Pale-boy was waiting for her. He pushed her, both hands slapping against her shoulders. MJ stumbled back, caught her balance, and then, before he could react, slammed her head against his. Dazed, he took a few steps before dropping to the mat. MJ pounced on top of him, raking her nails across his face. He moved to dislodge her with his arm which she grabbed and twisted. He started howling, but the noise was quickly cut off when MJ laid her forearm across his neck and pressed down. Then, the only sound was a horrible dry gasping.
Finally, MJ let up, removing her arm and allowing him to gulp in air. She crawled off his body but stayed beside him, waiting for his breathing to even out. Once he was aware of her presence, Pale-boy feebly lifted a hand to slap at her. She deflected it and leaned down to place her hands on either side of his face. He struggled.
“Angel,” MJ said. “Stop, yes? Stop.”
MJ slowly gathered him in her arms and took him from the room. The large boy stalked after her. Confused, the rest of you wandered into the hallway.
You heard the fight start before you saw it. There was shouting and the sound of flesh hitting flesh, and then you saw the large boy pulling MJ from the bunk room by her hair. She managed to get a hand around to slug him in the stomach. This was the last you saw of their fight; your view was blocked by two children in front of you slapping each other in the face. To your left, one boy knocked another to the ground and dragged him by the foot back into the fight room. To your right, a girl slammed a boy into the wall and forcefully jammed her thumb into his eye.
Bouncing at your side, Little Sister surveyed the disorder. Before she could ambush anyone, you grabbed her by the arms and hauled her into the eating room. When you put her down, her body was still quivering and her face was rigid in fury, so you let her hit you in the chest, one vicious pounding after another. Once she realized you weren’t going to fight back, she stopped.
Then, an alarm sounded, and a hot, electric pain buzzed underneath your skin.
The buzzing stopped. You were on the floor. Your pants were wet and stuck to your thighs. There was an acrid smell. You had urinated. You turned your head to the side. Little Sister was lying next to you. Her eyes were open but empty. A shiny string of saliva dripped from the corner of her mouth.
You thought she could be dead.
Before you could process this piece of information fully, an army of As arrived. You were taken to a room that contained two beds. You were placed on the second one. The large boy occupied the first. You tried to ignore him, blocking out the slightly labored breathing coming from his side of the room. This proved impossible. You didn’t think he could hurt you, so you propped your still woozy head up on your arm to look at him. He had a scrape on his forehead that lazily oozed blood on to the bed sheets. His swollen right hand rested on his stomach.
He shifted his head in your direction. You flinched but didn’t look away. He didn’t seem angry, so you proffered a question.
“Hurt?” you asked.
He waved his swollen hand at you.
The door to the room slid open, and a female A entered. She cleaned the large boy’s head, wrapped up his hand, and left the room.
You waited until the door slid shut before asking your second question. “Name?”
You received a grunt in response.
You tried again. “Your name?”
You had given up on receiving a response when he said, “No name. Never got one.”
The door to the room slid open again, and two male As entered. The smaller one carried a tray which he placed on a table by the door. They approached the large boy first. He raised up his head and spat at them. While they unrolled restraining straps from the side of the bed, he smacked one of them in the head with his uninjured hand. He kicked the other one in the stomach before they managed to tie down his legs. He thrashed, body rocking side to side on the bed, while they applied the other two restraints and screamed when they punctured his arm with a needle.
You were so busy watching the large boy, you didn’t even notice the male A approaching your bed until you felt the slight pain of the needle jabbing into your skin. He smiled at you and patted you on the head before dimming the lights and leaving the room.
You heard the large boy sniffling. They had left him restrained. You pulled yourself up from your bed and crept toward his. The restraints weren’t difficult to loosen and remove, though your fingers were a little clumsy. You crawled back to your bed and fell asleep.
In the morning, a female A came to take you back to the living quarters; she did not bring the large boy with you. He sat on the edge of his bed and watched you leave.
The trainers, One and Three, were waiting for you and the other children. They smiled and herded you into the bunk room. Placed neatly on each of the pillows was a tiny flat black oval. When you placed it in the palm of your hand, a little hologram of a rabbit appeared above it. It responded to your touch; when you prodded at it, it hopped onto your fingers and cleaned its face with its paw. With Three’s assistance, you all discovered that when the ovals were placed in close proximity, the animals reacted to each other. The girls on the bunk next to yours laughed while one animal groomed the other.
You looked around for MJ and found her missing. You looked around for Little Sister. She wasn’t present either. Then, you remembered.
You stared down at the little rabbit. It had curled up on your fingers and gone to sleep. You closed your hand around the oval and threw it at One. He turned, startled, and you launched yourself at him, the force and fury of your assault knocking him to the ground.
The buzzing pain erupted under your skin. Your body collapsed on top of One, limbs twitching. Your mind, overwhelmed, switched itself off.
You came awake again slowly. You must have lost time. You had no memory of arriving being taken from the bunk room.
Something was poking you in the side. You moved slightly, and Little Sister threw herself on top of you. You patted at her face and hair. She swatted your hands away and climbed over you to lay on your left side. She rested her head beside yours on the pillow and entwined her hand with yours.
You fell asleep again.