Chapter 8: Cryptic

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September 8, 2357

Rooftop of Genesis N Building 37

Genesis, America

"Genesis North Building 37," the driver called as the heavily laden bus drifted to a stop only a foot above the roof.

Ari's eyes shot to the window, a stone of disappointment dropping into her stomach. Intimidating as he was, that didn't mean her curiosity would allow her to stay away. Not after the cryptic remark he had just left her with.

Turning back towards him, Ari was surprised to find that Jace had not yet looked away. Cold as ice, his eyes continued to trace her features. Scrutinizing her with an intensity Ari had never witnessed before. What was it that he could possibly see in her?

When he looked at her like that, it was nigh impossible for Ari to speak. Her entire mouth had gone dry and her lips didn't even want to part. Eyes as wide and dark as a doe's, Ari stared back in a way that she hoped would mask the unease that she felt. Once more, she could not feel anything but violated under his unyielding gaze.

"This is my stop," Ari muttered when she was at last able to recover her voice.

"Mine, too." With the same fluidity with which he had sat down, Jace was on his feet and striding for the front of the bus. All around, a perimeter was left for him because no one else dared be that close to a trained killer.

Scrambling to her feet, Ari had to stretch her long legs in order to fall into the gap provided him. She was the only one who dared to be close to him and she was quite willing to use that to her advantage. Especially since she wasn't entirely done with him.

Somehow, without him sitting there staring at her, a new surge of courage pulsed through her veins. So it was not entirely unexpected when she demanded, "What does that mean?" as soon as her foot hit the roof.

Jace barely looked over his shoulder at her before he kept walking. Ari followed only a couple of feet behind him. For each long step of hers, he had an equally long, fluid gait of his own. At last, however, they were on the far side of the roof, a decent distance from the bus stop itself.

"What does that mean, Jace? That you don't get a choice if your aptitude is soldier?" Ari demanded yet again when he'd finally stopped.

She was grateful that he wouldn't look at her. Instead, he leaned against the waist-high ledge and his piercing gaze scoured the city streets below. Sitting on the ledge, her back to the open air, Ari watched him with her head tilted. However long it took, she would wait. Her curiosity had been triggered and now an answer had become a necessity.

Luckily for her, an answer was not something Jace was adverse to giving.

"It means: nobody wants to be a soldier. No one wants to become the boogeyman in all of the children's stories. And that's what we are. What I am." Jace's chest pushed outward as he took a deep breath. After holding it for a second, his entire being seemed to deflate as he let it out, his head hanging down between his shoulders.

"I always thought soldiers chose their own fate. That their sense of duty compelled them to..." Ari's voice was so small, it barely seemed to carry the distance to where Jace stood.

A sharp, sarcastic laugh bit out from between his teeth and his eyes raised to meet hers. They were as hard as gems and just as cold. Even Ari's ruthless control could not stop the shiver that scurried up her spine.

"Duty and honor and pride all come later. When you take that damn test and they tell you that your highest aptitude is as a soldier, you're nothing but a frightened kid, recalling all of the stories and rumors used to terrorize you as a child. No. Not a sane person in this world would choose to be a soldier."

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