Chapter 21:

The Ebb Tide II - "You Just Lost the Game"

Destiny Marine

The elevated train ride took the better part of the afternoon. Isaac looked forward to seeing the rural countryside again, images of rolling hills and fields of wheat entering his mind. Instead, Fore River was directly south of the capital; it felt like they never left Narragansett in the first place. The east coast of Arcadia just seemed like one big metropolis, full of concrete, steel, and glass. Sure, as they left the downtown area of the capital, the buildings got shorter and a bit more spread out, but the rows and rows of factories and other brick buildings never ceased, nor did the dirty faces of the people below.

Only a billboard above a cement factory the train passed by indicated they had left the capital and were now in Fore River (the sign also said Fore River was, allegedly, the seafood capital of the world Arcadia). At least skyscrapers didn’t block the view of the ocean here; Isaac felt mesmerized by the endless waves of blue. Babs stared out the window alongside him, while Reed tossed and turned into a fitful nap. “Only people…who hate feedback more than sound guys…are writers.”


The jolt of the train coming to a halt as it arrived in the Fore River station woke her back up. The trio exited the train and took a horse-drawn carriage to the Marine barracks in town. Surprisingly, Reed paid for it, but then she said it was just because things like that while on missions were reimbursable by the Navy. With that, they drove through Fore River; the docks and warehouses were on the other side, close to the ocean. Their journey to the barracks took through the rest of town, through factories and saloons and tenement houses before arriving at a small building that must have been the local Combined Fleet marine headquarters.

A large man with an auburn beard was waiting outside for them. He had a rifle slung around his shoulder and wore the tanned uniform of the marines. “Lieutenant Derry,” he introduced himself. After a round of salutes, he gave each of them firm handshakes, and a firm handshake meant a person was a-okay in Isaac's book. Reed quietly slipped her hand behind her own back afterwards to shake away the pain of Derry's grip.

The sun was just starting to set, so Derry took them inside the barracks, which was really just a brick building with two floors, a big room for the marines to sleep in, and a spare room where Squad 3 would be sleeping for the night. Compared to the speed and organized chaos of the base, the barracks reminded Isaac of the tiny sheriff office in Patuxet.

“How many soldiers are here?” Isaac asked. He only had seen a few of them as they passed through the barracks - they were playing cards and shuffling through papers.

Derry’s face was suddenly inches from Isaac’s. The lieutenant had a furrowed brow and the mustache part of his beard was curled into a snarl. “Kid, we are not soldiers. We’re marines.”

Sweat dripped down Isaac’s face. “...thank you for clarifying.”

Derry dropped the trio off in the spare room then departed, muttering under his breath about “kids these days” and “chair force”. There were two bunk beds in the guestroom, which meant a unisex sleeping arrangement. Reed realized that, too. “Isaac’s gonna sleep in here with us?”

A bottom bed creaked as Isaac dropped his backpack onto it. “I think it’s called gender equality. We’ve come a long way. We only realized women were able to read about twenty years ago, and look at where we are now.”

“Ha-ha. Don’t get any funny ideas,” Reed complained as she eyed the other bunk bed. She took one brief look at the top bunk, then collapsed into the bottom bunk. She grasped the green blanket on top of it and rolled herself into a burrito, with only her pale face remaining visible.

Babs sat down on the bed next to her. She rummaged through her own pack and pulled out tonight’s dinner - a ration of canned meat. Red Rddhi flickered in her finger as she used it in lieu of a can opener, searing a big square on the top of the can to open it. “Not gonna eat?” she asked, holding out the can to Reed. When Reed shook her head, Babs leaned back and shook the meat out of the can until it landed in her mouth.

Isaac considered himself more civilized; he brought a wooden spoon from the base with him. He felt pretty proud, opening his can of meat using a fingertip of Rddhi, and ate slowly while Babs downed it all in one fell swoop. The room settled down into a comfortable silence, giving Isaac to reflect on the mission.

I still haven't met the average Restorationist yet. It's a question of my sense of justice against their sense of justice. Both of us want to upend the government here and create a better country...but I'm not peddling drugs to do it. Don't forget that my own brother died and best friend got imprisoned. This mission will help me get stronger so I can accomplish my goals. I may not agree with the military, but I have to do this mission. And I'll do it the right way.

A round of snickering came from the other bed; Isaac frowned as Reed continued to chuckle at the serious, scrunched up look on his face stemming from his moral dilemma. He just shook his head, but with a heart full of resolve now, he finished his canned meat.

“I think we should do some team-bonding exercises,” Babs proposed once Isaac finished. “That way, we’ll get to know each other a little better.”

“What do you have in mind?” Isaac asked.

Babs clapped her hands. “I have a game! I don’t know the name for it, but basically, I’ll say something, and you guys answer, and we’ll go around like that.”

Reed frowned. “That's literally just having a conversation.”

“Great! You already know how to play.” Babs kicked her shoes off and leaned back on the bed, landing right on Reed’s blanket-covered legs; Reed hissed and maneuvered herself out of the way.

Babs laughed and began the ‘game’. “My name is Barbara but I like going by Babs, and I grew up in the town of Neponset. That’s right north of the capital where all the rural migrants have been arriving. I lived there all my life, unlocked the Rddhi this summer, and went to the recruiting office and here I am.”

The two girls glanced at Isaac, who realized it was his turn. “Well, Reed was there for it, but uh, I don’t have a nickname. Anyway, I grew up in the mining town of Patuxet to the south and lived there all my life, too, until…well, it’s complicated, but I got in a fight at a movie theater with a cultivator which led to me unlocking the Rddhi.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “There was nothing left for me in Patuxet after that, and I wanted some…answers, I guess, so Reed recruited me here.”

“I see,” Babs said, closing her eyes and nodding. “I’ve never heard of Patuxet before - it must’ve been a small town. But what answers are you looking for?”

Why can’t I bring myself to trust them? Isaac wondered. They were his squadmates and both of them had helped him make it this far. Yet, something inside of him screamed to keep it all to himself. “Uh…I guess it’s personal. Sorry.”

Babs waved her hands to signify no worries; the two then glanced at Reed. She rolled her burrito over so she faced the wall. “Ah, Reed, I thought you knew how to play,” Babs pointed out. “This is your turn to answer.”

“My name is Hibiscus Reed, but I go by Reed,” she explained, her voice muffled as she spoke into the wall. “And it’s all personal.”

“Even where you grew up?” Isaac asked.

“Even the last time I pissed the bed.”

Babs’ eyes bugged out and she scooched a little away from her. But then she collected herself and clapped her hands again. After a brief glance at the closed door to their room, she spoke in a lower voice. “Alright, let’s try a different angle. I joined the military because I want to change this country. I think if I rise to the top, I can reform Arcadia for the better.”

She looked off to the side; her voice grew gentle. “When I was younger, someone helped save me and taught me everything I needed to know. I hope that, when I reach the top, I can return the favor to everyone in this country. That’s why I’m here. Why are you here, Isaac? I know we spoke, but…is it related to those answers?”

The girls’ bunk bed creaked a little as Reed glanced back over her shoulder. Isaac organized his thoughts and spoke barely louder than a whisper. “Yeah. I want to change this country, too. I don’t like teachers getting arrested for just doing their job, or the murder of university students getting covered up. I don’t know if I chose to be in this position, but now that I’m here, I’m working for change. That’s what I want.”

Reed shifted over entirely so she could lay on her back. Babs’ bright eyes suddenly stared down at her, waiting for a response. Reed groaned. “See, this is what I don’t get. Everybody allegedly needs a reason, both real people and fictional characters. Everybody has a want. I want to save the princess. I want to get stronger. I want to resurrect a loved one.”

She looked over both of them. “But why? Why am I expected to have a want? Why am I expected to be working toward something?” Reed grinned and closed her eyes. “I don’t ever feel like doing anything, you know? Well, sometimes I like doing things. On an individual basis, I like doing things. But, overall, I don’t wanna do nothing. I just want to…sit in paradise all day. Live in a big meadow and tend to a big garden. I'd sit right next to a little stream and watch the flowers sway all day. I think that’d be pretty neat.”

Isaac pondered what movie character’s personality she was trying to copy here, but then realized she wasn’t putting on a character at all. When she wasn’t trying to act suave and cool, Reed was just a tired, somewhat-pissy girl. So, in a roundabout way, Isaac really did learn more about her during their conversation game.

The intensity of their incredibly emotional team-bonding exercise soon put them all to sleep. Babs climbed up the ladder to her own bunk while Isaac settled down in his bed. As sleep overtook him, he heard soft mumbling come from Reed’s bunk.

“ do you know someone works in movies…’cuz they’ll tell you.”

The next afternoon, Isaac and the rest of Squad 3 sat alongside the marine platoon in the benches of a heavy truck bed as they traveled to the port. Moving by train was one thing, but moving by truck was another; Isaac had never ridden in a car before, and the feeling was absolutely electric - the wind whipping at his face, the speed at which the town moved by him, the sudden slowness of the horse-drawn carriages in comparison.

“I’ll go over the plan once more,” Lieutenant Derry said, his voice loud and booming despite the wheezes of the truck engine. “We move in quickly before they have time to offload or destroy any of the drugs. The marine platoon will be doing most of the work here. Any signs of resistance, shoot on sight.”

The marines nodded in agreement, clutching their rifles. Through his classes, Isaac knew that the Combined Fleet operated as the conventional side of the Navy - the ships and the normal marines. None of the marines with the midshipmen trio were cultivators, yet Isaac wondered if he or the men with guns were more deadly here. Meanwhile, Derry continued his instructions. “The Melusine just arrived in the port. The captain will be on shore, speaking with dock workers. I’ll handle his arrest as the rest of you sweep the ship. We suspect there will be two cultivators on board. If they show any resistance, shoot without any hesitation. If the odds are against you, shoot even more. I expect the riflemen here to take them down without any assistance from the cultivators attached to us.”

Marines passed around cigarettes, marines drank from canteens, and marines grinned with ambition. Isaac frowned at the implication he wasn’t needed, but then he recalled his conversation with Reed their first night in the capital - the marines considered themselves human, and wanted to prove themselves as equal, if not better, to the cultivators. Resting her arms behind her head with the sleeves rolled up, Babs noticed Isaac out of the corner of her eye and nodded in silent understanding of his observation of the marines around him. Reed tried, unsuccessfully, to bum a cigarette off the marine sitting next to her.

The port came into view, and there she was - the Melusine in all its glory. Its blue hull shone brightly in the sun, and black smoke steamed into the sky. The truck maneuvered around the boxes and crates scattered around the docks, beeping at longshoremen and workers to get out of its way. The truck pulled to a stop right at the Melusine’s berth; like clockwork, the marines and Squad 3 streamed off the truck, wooden beams creaking as Isaac followed them onto the dock. As expected, the ship’s captain spoke with a longshoremen as the platoon arrived, his first mate standing half-obscured behind him. As the marines moved past them, rifle in hand, Derry approached the captain. Squad 3 remained with him as he prepared for the arrest.

“What’s the meaning o’ this?” the captain demanded to know, his face red. Derry just motioned for two other marines to take him in; they moved as one, preparing to wrap their own arms around the captain.

Derry spoke calmly. “You can answer that downtown-”

Red Rddhi sparked from behind the captain, sending short bursts into the sky and across the dock and into the sea below. Derry’s eyes widened as a gleaming blade of metal appeared out of the captain’s stomach; the lieutenant just barely managed to knock it away from himself with his rifle. The two other marines weren’t so lucky; the sword cut straight the captain’s corpse and then into their stomachs. Sprays of red covered the first mate as he stood with a smile; the dead bodies of the captains and two marines fell away, giving Isaac an unhindered view of the Rddhi flowing through the first mate's body.

This should’ve been a tranquil scene of a ship pulling into shore, but the peace was interrupted by more Rddhi activations along the berth and up into the ship. Gunfire and screams rang out as the ship’s crew all unveiled their swords and went to work on the marines.

Blood covered Derry’s uniform as he stood up. He gave the first mate a confused look and unconsciously spoke in a dumbfounded voice. “I thought there were only two cultivators here, and you don’t look like Panama or Jackson.”

The first mate flicked his sword; blood scattered across the wooden dock.

“Who knows?”