23. New

23. New

            Lai is accustomed to all of her working days being homogenous, interchangeable. A Monday is no different in tone from a Wednesday or a Thursday, and Friday only stands out because of the impatience for the weekend that always colors it. Sure, the assignments she receives are allegedly new each day, but they all look the same to her. And so her life has always passed in tedium, week after month after year.

            Her first several days training with the Uniters are another matter altogether.

            Her routine is different, of course, although it is still definitely a routine. The days do have a certain uniformity to them, but they don’t feel as if they’re all running together into a smear of boredom. Rather, they all seem to be designed to connect with each other perfectly, their activities carrying over and complementing one another. Each lesson ties into the one that came before it, as well as the one that’s coming up next.

            But the most radical change of all is that for the first time in her life, Lai isactually doing something.

            All of her efforts are going into training. She’s hardly touched her paper books lately, or her keyboard, or her Notebook Number Three. She sets the standard for a good work ethic in her squadron. The trainer, Walter, is often especially critical with her, but that’s only because he knows how much she is capable of. He is willing to accept more errors from those of lesser skill, but with his “shining stars,” he knows that this best course of action is to praise them just enough and push them the rest of the way.

            “Stop showing off, Lai! This is real life, not a martial arts flick! You can’t afford to be that extravagant in a real battle!”

            “I saidlowkicks,lowkicks! Kicking that high has left you vulnerable more times than I can count!”

            “The last time I checked, you had hands. Use them! Those armored gloves can do some damage, you know!”

           His advice is never cruel but always insistent. Though she usually takes heed of it, she has argued for her own methods more than once. Whenever this happens, he usually concedes that what feels most natural to her is more important than being by-the-book perfect.

            All of the Uniters are encouraged to be resourceful, using anything available to them as weapons in a dire situation. This could mean their own bodies, random objects laying around, or any variety of actual weapons, all of which they are supposed to use proficiently in training. Lai’s favorite tools are stunners, which are slender electrified rods most useful in close-range combat. She takes an odd sort of pleasure in turning a stunner between her fingers like a baton, then plunging it into one of the Arena’s attack dummies with deadly grace. She is often scolded for adding too many frills to her fighting style, but personally, she doesn’t see any harm in showing off just a little bit.

            Perhaps that’s why she isn’t too fond of guns of any sort. They seem ugly and brutish to her; they suck all of the exhilaration out of battle. After all, it doesn’t take very much talent to look through an eyepiece and press a button. Still, she can’t fault functionality, and she has to admit that guns are by far the most useful out of all of the weapons she’s been introduced to.

            After a full seven days of training, Lai’s balance is superior, as is her flexibility. She can run circles around the more heavyset members of her squadron, and even her muscles have been strengthened enough to let her punch someone with a decent amount of force. The other Uniters are impressed, and for the first time, she finds herself to be almost popular. And yet she secretly feels more uncomfortable than rewarded when total strangers compliment her skills, though she keeps up an air of smug self-assuredness.

            Most importantly of all, Lady T is pleased.

            “You keep this up, and you’ll find yourself alongside your friends Les and Ema,” she tells Lai at the end of the week. “As a leader of the Uniters.”

            Lai inhales deeply. Wouldn’t that be something, to be one of the leaders…to rise above the crowd instead of being trapped within it. “I hope I get that far.”

            “And speaking of Ema, a little bird told me that you two have barely spoken to each other this week,” Lady T continues, a brief flash passing over the lenses of her glasses as they catch the light.

            “No, I guess we haven’t talked much.” Lai kicks one heel along the turf-covered ground. Lady T has been meeting with her daily since training began, often making inquiries about Lai’s personal life that the imp girl isn’t entirely comfortable with. Lai doesn’t much talk about her thoughts or feelings, since she is under the impression that no one will care. Hell,shedoesn’t even care most of the time.

            “That’s fairly impressive, considering that you two live together.”

            “Yeah, well, we’ve been kind of busy lately. Besides, little miss social butterfly has plenty of other friends to talk to.”

            Lady T clicks her tongue dismissively. “Oh, come now, Lai. I’m not naïve enough to fall for weak excuses like that. You and Ema are having a little spat, aren’t you?”

            “No, it’s not like that. I just…don’t like talking to people who think I’m crazy.”

            “Oh, so you’ve decided to believe me about that now?”

            “Yes.” Lai snorts bitterly. “At first I kept thinking, ‘No, Ema is my friend, she would never do that!’ And then I took another look at her and I realized…yes, she would.”

            “You’ll find that everything has another side if you look at it in the right light,” says Lady T sagely. “Take my advice, Miss Lai, and remember that relationships are like drugs. Partaking in them a little bit can make everything more fun, but if you let them get too involved in your life, you’ll find yourself addicted.”

            Lai thought about that a lot after that conversation.

            It had never occurred to her that participating in a relationship is a choice, and that if you find it to be detrimental, you have the option to simply walk away. Or you can stay, but only invest yourself to a certain extent, withdrawing before you form any real emotional bonds. It isn’t the best lifestyle, perhaps…but Lai has noticed that she’s never seemed to have the same emotional needs that those around her exhibit. She does not crave acceptance or find herself consumed by a desire for love. Whether or not she has friends has never mattered much to her.

            With the conflict between the Uniters and the ILG drawing nearer, she has already begun to reinvent herself. Perhaps her “new self” should be a more independent creature. No attachments will mean no setbacks for her if anyone gets hurt. It will mean not caring when someone thinks that she’s crazy. It will give her a layer of strength that no one else in the Uniters can ever hope to possess…

            So she makes up her mind to resume her friendship with Ema, but not to forgive and forget. She resolves that from now on, things will be different. Things will be better.

            Things will be new.

The End

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