Being drafted into a hero squad is a lot different for many people. On my world, we have to undergo tests and training daily after we’re admitted to the Club, and if we don’t make it, we’re Dishonorably Released. We don’t just train until we’re strong and are picked on by the Clubs, we’re picked when we’re seventeen, the legal age to fight, and when most Arthenans are mentally matured. At the age of seventeen, three different things happen, one: We get picked by a Club and are sent to train. Two: We get our mental Patches, little implants that help us see and hear different kinds of technology, talk with one another mentally, keep up to date with Arthen Forums (without the use of the Tablets we receive at the age of five), stream videos and music, and join the virtual reality games or fight tests. Three: We earn our licenses, the platinum cards that hold our funds and Identification numbers. I am getting all of those things right now, and it’s horrifying.
As Arthenans, we are all born with the instinct to fight, whether it’s to fight bad or to be bad and fight good. Either way, we’re fighters with only the exception of a few people who we call the TBRs, To Be Released, nothing fancy, but they’re a useless people. TBR don’t accept their fates, of course, but they have no choice, since they’re not made to fight. Arthenans cannot allow TBR to roam free and reproduce, if we did, then we would be a world of TBR, and who knows how the crossbreeds would turn out. TBR are all distinguished by the light blue stars branded into the soft flesh above their collarbones, I should know, since I have one.
The only good thing about being a TBR is the freedom, we don’t have any of the duties that the fighters are born with, and we are allowed to be completely independent, as long as we go in for our monthly checks to make sure we’re not trying to reproduce. If a TBR fails to check in for their test, then a fighter is sent after said TBR and they’re either checked forcibly or released for breaking the law.
Stepping up onto the stage along with the long line of born fighters, I wondered just how much trouble I would be in if these people found out that I was a TBR. I wore the official fighter uniform, a slick black and blue uniform with a star cut in where my blue mark was, only, I had my mark hidden by a few layers of makeup and a sealant that I made out of a top coat for nail polish and a bit of liquid foundation. All of the makeup the fighters wear if extremely waterproof and sweat proof, since fighters work up a sweat daily and still want to look good. I just had to make sure, so I used the sealant and redid the makeup daily, if I got caught, I would be released immediately, but I didn’t want to live my life as a lowly TBR just waiting to slip up and get released. So here I am, walking up the stage, the tight uniform hugging all of my curves perfectly, my shiny new platinum license showing it’s shape on the hidden pocket in the left thigh of the uniform. The Club leaders were all standing on the stage in front of us, old parchment scrolls in their hands as they waited for us to settle down and stand at attention, which we did.
It occurred to me that my name might not be on the roster, even though I’d had my fighter friend hack into the databases and forge all of my information, along with change everything on my new license and delete my original self from the hospital files for TBR and put a few broken bones and illness records in with the fighters. I had a new name, too, in case some fighter somehow recognized it, now I am Pantxike Greis, Syke for short, a fighter from the other side of the world. Nobody will recognize me, and I’ll be safe as long as my blue star is hidden.
Finally, the leaders started to read off the names on the parchments, one club at a time, one out of the fifteen clubs to be chosen for. The first club was Stardust, a team that wore dark blue suits with stars embroidered down the legs and splashes of purple dyed into the fabric in random places. Stardust's leader had blond hair, sharp features, and brown eyes with crows feet, he was tall and lean, Stardust was an agility-based Club. I listened hard to hear my name, nobody knew where they would place, not even the leaders could tell someone where they placed until three hours before the ceremony, when they sat in a lounge and worked out who placed where in the Clubs.
I hadn't had myself put up to any standards, that would have been foolish of me, as I probably wouldn't live up to anything I wrote. Instead I had written down the skills I did have, stability -I worked on this a lot, had people push and shove me as hard as they could while I fought to stay upright- flexibility -I spent hours and hours forcing my body to bend in ways that it didn't want to, often times ending my sessions in tears and struggling to stand- and speed, when I wasn't working on not falling over and flexibility, I was running as hard as I could down the road until I was puking from the stress I put on my body.
The Stardust leader finished naming off his newest recruits, watching as they all stepped forward, then walking up to them and, one by one, pressing a small handheld brand through the star cut through their uniform, branding them with a star that matched the uniform the leader wore. The leader, of course, had quad stars branded above his collarbone, to show his rank. When all of the Stardust recruits were branded, they saluted their new leader and followed him off the stage to sit in empty seats reserved for them. Sixteen students had been chosen for Stardust, one more than was normal, there were only supposed to be two hundred and twenty-five new recruits, as usual, but is was number twenty-six, so one team was forced to have sixteen recruits instead of fifteen. I was so glad that I wasn't on the team with sixteen recruits, so I wouldn't automatically be branded the outsider when I was struggling.
More Clubs went through their recruits before I heard my name, Firebrand, a red, orange, and yellow star, the colors fashioned to look like flames; Blanche, a white and sapphire star, the sapphire marbled into the white; Castel Hound, Brown and black star, blended stripes; Wonderland, blue, gold, and purple spirals intertwined; Wasteland, reddish brown, tan, and black in a splattered, careless fashion; Ivy, green and blue, the green spiraling around the dark blue star. And then I heard my name. The Brigade club was up, the only thing I knew about them was that their leader, Nathan, was hot with a capital H-O-T. He was redheaded with green eyes, an accent like my own, and the sky-like uniform, darker blue than the TBR stars with light and dark gray splotches covering about half of the blue. The star was the same dark blue with a dark gray cloud halfway covering a realistic rainbow. I stepped forward on shaking legs, joining the four other recruits that had stepped forward, a tall redheaded male, a short girl with soft brown curls and a bit of chub, an average-height male with tousled blond hair, another tall male with dark brown hair pulled back into a short ponytail, and a girl a little bit shorter than me with dark blue hair that fell in a loose braid down to her waist. I bit my tongue hard, forcing myself not to do anything with my hands, I had to stay in formation with the rest of them and wait while the rest of the recruits were listed off. Finally, all fifteen recruits had been picked and we stood stock still as the leader, Nathan stepped forward, brand in hand. The brand was pressed into each of the four people before me, and then it was my turn. I hoped the blue star wouldn't show through the makeup, even a little bit would have given me away, but nothing happened. Nathan stepped towards me and lifted the brand, pressing the star into the gap in my uniform and pressing the button on the back. It took all I had not to leap back with a squeal of pain as heat shot through my collarbone, the heat mixing with the needles that would hide my old blue star under the star of a Club, one of the elite, elusive Clubs that only took the best of the best. The pain was over in less than a second, and then the leader was moving down the line, stopping in front of everyone and branding them all. Once the leader stepped back, we all saluted in a wave, the most impressive wave, if I said so myself, one after the other, our hands snapped up until we were all saluting, then we snapped our hands back down with the same rhythm. Ah, sweet symmetry. The leader spun on his heel and led us all down the steps, off the stage, one by one we turned on our heel and followed, only a few feet between us all. I had practiced these moves for weeks before the Assigning, all of these recruits knew exactly what to do, but I had to watch reruns of the ceremony and practice hard, I always stumbled or took a misstep, but this time was perfect. I walked off the stage, the fifth in line, my shoulders back and my head held high, I had made it, and now I got to sit comfortably and watch the rest of the ceremony. Not only had I made it, but I was in the second best Club, second only to Excalibur, the gold slashing bright lines through the royal purple star. I slid through the aisle and turned, seating myself in the blue and gray seats reserved for Brigade. The rest of the ceremony went by rather quickly, after Brigade came Royale, a royal blue crown over a pale green base star; Recon, a camouflage star with two black slashes; Baroque, brick red with three bullet holes through the star; Frisk, light yellow rays over purple; Knights, dark gray star with a silver Knight's helmet with two swords through it; And, last but not least, Binary, a black star with vibrant green ones and zeroes all over their star.
When the ceremony was over, everyone stood up and clapped, then the Clubs went out of the large theatre one by one, in the order that they had been giver recruits, Stardust starting off and leading the packs of new Club members. I walked out after my new leader, palms stinging from all of the clapping, it was too easy to get over excited, especially when I, a lowly TBR, got chosen for one of the best Clubs. Not that I would make it through day one, the day they would test the new recruits on all skills, not just the ones they were good at. I walked out into the foyer, accidentally stepping on the back of the short girl's uniform boots, stepping back slightly.
“Oops, I'm sorry, I wasn't watching where I was going. I've never seen such a grand place before…” I quickly tried to cover for myself, offering the girl an apologetic smile. I was pleased to earn myself a sweet smile in return as the girl turned to face me. We were allowed to talk to each other now, and I couldn't wait to meet my teammates.
“No problem!” The girl's voice was sugar sweet and had an almost melodic tone to it. “I probably would have walked right into a wall if you hadn't brought me back to my sense, this place is incredible!” She laughed lightly and tossed her curls over her shoulder to get them out of her face. You're… Pan...tixie? Was it?” She didn't give me a chance to reply until she stopped, unsure of her pronunciation of my new name. I grinned and shook my head before holding my hand out.
“Pantxike Greis, actually, you can call me Syke for short, if you want. It's great to see that someone else is as awed about this place as I am.”