Epilogue: Till They Shine
Jack tried not to grow bitter as he and Emma passed by the other trainees. Night had fallen, and many sat on logs roasting marshmallows around campfires. The girls and boys had been permitted to mingle, though none were able to get too frisky, thanks mostly to the watchful eyes of the instructors and Drill Sergeants. The smell of smoked sausage and honey barbeque tickled at Jack’s nose and made him want to whimper.
There’s always tomorrow, Jack thought.
It appeared that when not in training, the camp treated everyone pretty good. The trainees were fed well, given some free time, and there were nightly activities such as dinner and marshmallows under the stars. Crickets and laughing voices drowned out the sound of Jack’s feet walking over the soft grass. Only hours ago, the place seemed like a nightmare out of hell. Now, it was among the most beautiful sights Jack had ever seen. Who knew there were so many stars in the sky? Jack desperately wanted to join in on the fun.
“Keep moving,” Barker growled. “You too, Emma.”
Emma grunted something under her breath and picked up the pace. She paused a moment to give Jack a rueful glare, which he returned with an apologetic smile. Jack didn’t think she’d ever forgive him for this, no matter how hard he tried. Jack curled his bottom lip at Emma when she looked away.
Before long, the sound of merry voices faded along with the light from the campfires, until it became too dark for Jack to do anything but follow Barker and Emma by sound alone. Why did things always have to turn out for the worst? Seriously, couldn’t Jack ever get a break? He groaned as he thought back on the whole nightmarish day, which felt like the longest in his life. Even in the darkness he could feel Emma’s eyes burning into Jack’s forehead.
Oh, it was just so easy for her to glare at him every few steps, and Jack didn’t deserve any of it! Well, maybe some, but at least Emma didn’t have to put on robes and run through sewers, or fight her own mom while fending off an angry Manipulator-lady with glass knives.
You try doing that, Emma, Jack thought. It’s not so easy.
A light from ahead resolved itself into the form of a large, rectangular building as Jack approached. Unlike the other places Jack had seen so far in the camp, this one was big—really big. There was only one entrance to the place, a wide gap with shutter rather than a door. Barker fished around in his pockets until he removed a key.
“In here,” he said. “You two get to have a sneak preview of what’s in store for you tomorrow.”
Jack knew he wasn’t alone in feeling nerves shoot through his stomach at the thought of whatever hell Sergeant Barker had planned for them tomorrow. He and Gracie were so pleased with the results of the day’s training that the two had decided to keep Emma and Jack’s group together. It was for this reason, Jack knew, that Emma must’ve felt the same apprehension Jack did—their fates were linked.
Barker slid the shutter up to reveal the door behind. He tugged it open and motioned for Jack and Emma to enter. Jack stepped inside. It was too dark to see anything in front of him.
“Where are we?” Jack asked. “You said we’d be in here tomorrow?”
“You betcha,” Barker said. He flipped a switch, and Jack had to shield his eyes from the sudden change of light. Partially covering his face, Jack thought he must’ve been seeing things. He waited until his eyes adjusted to the bright light and then removed his hand. There was no doubt about it. Jack was standing on a basketball court, with two glass backboards framing the hoops, and the same markings and lines on the floor as in his high school back at home.
“Welcome to the gymnasium, you two.” Barker stepped inside and clapped his hands. “You guys should be happy. Tomorrow we’re going to spend the day playing games.” Though Barker’s lips were formed into a smile, his eyes held a sharp threat. Somehow, Jack didn’t think he’d be having much fun.
“Isn’t … isn’t there something else we could play?” Jack asked. “I don’t know, like Metal Gear Solid or something?”
Emma nudged him in the ribs, hard. “Stop asking stupid questions. Any time you do something dumb, he’s gonna take it out on me, too.”
“Sorry,” Jack said, rubbing his side.