Chapter 30:

The Young Master II - "The Black Sheep"

Destiny Marine

Isaac frowned and shook his head. “But there’s still another week before the inspection.”

“You think the enemy will attack on schedule?” Officer Connor barked back at him. “Furthermore, the Navy owns you! I own you! Open this door before I have you shot for insubordination.”

This late at night, Isaac didn’t want to cause a scene and draw any attention to himself. He also wasn’t sure about Connor’s ability to have him killed, but he decided against taking any chances. And with the journal page (hopefully) safe with Reed, Isaac had nothing to hide either.

The lock opened with a click that seemed to echo in the quiet night. Isaac let the officer inside; Connor’s brows were furrowed tightly and looked hell-bent on this inspection. He kicked the door closed behind him, then gazed about the room. To Isaac’s surprise, his steel gaze soon contorted into one of conflict as he took another uneasy step. The room’s lone lightbulb illuminated Connor’s prominent forehead as he removed his officer’s cap and wiped his face. He swallowed, then apparently made up his mind. “I’m not supposed to be taking bribes this time, I’m supposed to really look through everything, but my kid took a turn for the worse. I know you’ve been paid, so hand it over and I’ll be out of your hair.”

Compared to all the bluster of his entry, the officer’s voice took on a strained tone. Isaac leaned against the wall and felt a hint of sympathy. “Why don’t you tell your commander about your kid?”

Connor looked at him for a moment, then let out a pained laugh. “Commandant Firmino knows, but with the decline in the Grand Admiral's condition, he's essentially running the whole Navy at this point. Vice Commandant Spinelli more or less commands the Naval Police now in his place now, and well...the battles we fight for him, the men we lock up for him…all the spoils line Spinelli's pockets, and the common people like you and I don’t get none of it. The bureaucrats, the technocrats, the leaders, they all live in their own world with their heads held high, while you and I are just dogs praying for scraps below the table.” He looked at the ground and just shook his head. “You need to do what you can to survive in this world. One day, you’ll be in my shoes, and you’ll understand. Now, fork over the money.”

During the first inspection, Connor only implied a bribe, but there was no subtlety here. He looked and sounded desperate, both for his kid and whomever ordered him to thoroughly inspect this room. Unfortunately for Connor, Isaac wasn’t going to pay a bribe when it wasn’t necessary; he just hoped the kid would be alright.

“I’m assuming Spinelli or someone high up told you to do a thorough inspection,” Isaac said. “I won’t stop you.”

Ironically enough, that stopped Connor dead in his tracks. He had already extended his hand to accept a bribe; now, he just closed his fist and left it at his side. It trembled slightly. Connor then placed his cap back on and gave Isaac a hard stare. “You were never in a position to stop me.”

The next five minutes devolved the room from clean to a Reed-level mess. Well, that’s actually a pretty high bar to hit, but it certainly felt like it to Isaac. Connor approached his inspection with an animalistic-level of intensity, tossing his desk drawers on the ground, flipping over his bed, emptying his trash barrel before throwing it against the wall. Even though the letter was no longer there, Isaac couldn’t help but feel a sense of worry as Connor tore through the closet. After tossing out his one uniform and two sets of civilian clothing to the floor, as well as combing through Isaac’s backpack with nothing still inside it, Connor was huffing and puffing from the exertion.

The only remaining item left untouched was the photo of Isaac’s family on his desk. Connor went after it, pulling out the back of the frame to make sure nothing was still inside it. Isaac recognized the look of a man intent on breaking something and rose from the wall, his right hand tightening itself into a ball.

But then the look on Connor’s face changed. He slowly put the back of the frame in place, then gently set the photo down on the desk. “Look at how messy this room is,” Connor muttered. “You failed the inspection. I’ll report it to Osip.”

The unexpected survival of the photo frame tempered Isaac’s anger over his rigged inspection. However, before anything more could be said, Connor departed the room. His eyes never rose from the ground as he left.


“How come you and Babs had to run this morning?” Lynn asked at the mess hall during the next day. Amid the crowd of cadets, Isaac and Babs sat with their fellow front-row recruits of Demetrius, Oksana, and Lynn. Kieran ignored the group, instead eating with his sister Mackenzie and the other midshipmen from wealthy blue-blood families at the next table over. Isaac noticed with a frown that those cadets got an extra scoop of gruel on their trays.

Demetrius had already finished his tray. “Osip had you two pounding sand all morning.”

Isaac went to answer, but Babs just laughed and spoke first. “I had a random room inspection last night. They tossed around all my stuff and then said I left the room so messy that I failed. All those laps were punishment.”

When the two looked at Isaac for confirmation, he nodded. “Took the words right out of my mouth.”

With a perpetual trembling finger, Lynn twirled around the blue streak in her hair. “I feel bad for you guys. I didn’t get a random room inspection.”

“Nor did I,” Demetrius added. They looked over at Oksana for her input; a snake fell out of her hair, writhed around in the gruel, then disappeared into her uniform. The whole time, she kept her vacant-looking eyes on the radio towers visible through the mess hall windows.

The group of cadets took that as a no. “That’s weird, then,” Isaac supposed. “I wonder why Babs and I got random room inspections when you three didn’t.”

Babs raised an eyebrow. "Well, it is random."

"But I never got a random room inspection," Demetrius said. Lynn's blue streak of hair bounced along as she nodded in agreement.

Babs gave them a puzzled look, then her eyes lit up. “Maybe it’s because we just got back from a mission,” she proposed. “They probably wanted to make sure we didn’t take back anything with us that we weren’t supposed to.”

Good thing we took all those cultivation pills before last night, then.

The explanation made sense, but that left Isaac with another question. “Then did Reed get an inspection?” And if she did, did they find out about the page?

Babs crossed her arms and looked at the ceiling in wonder. “Come to think of it, I haven’t seen Reed all day.”

“She failed inspection so hard, they have her cleaning the destroyers this time,” Kieran called out from the neighboring table, an amused look on his face. “And I heard she has to do it all with just a toothbrush. What a shame. But I guess it suits the failure of the Reed family and her two trash squadmates.”

Lynn looked skittish and Demetrius just shook his head. But Isaac, after surviving a life and death situation, had found his tolerance for arrogance significantly lowered. He also thought of Reed’s organs sprayed about the place and all the marines who died. He was usually one to stay quiet, but today, he took a drink from his cup and spoke calmly.

“You’re still 1C, Kieran. Are you afraid of me now that I’ve matched you? I’ve been kicking your ass in the sparring matches, and now I’ll do it in the cultivation matches, too.”

The clamor in the mess hall grew quiet enough to hear a pin drop. Some of the northerners looked excited at the prospect of violence; some of the westerners snickered at Kieran as he grew red in the face. He suddenly stood up, knocking over his cup. “Isaac, you dare?”

When he thundered over towards his table, Isaac stood up as well to match him. Isaac had never been one for confrontations like this, but enough was enough. The two got close and sized each other up; they were equal height, and Isaac had a bit more muscle on his bones than when he first arrived.

“You’ve been acting like you’re hot shit the whole time we’ve been here,” Isaac reminded him. “And for what? What did any of us do to you? You’ve initiated everything.”

Kieran glared daggers at him. As all the faces in the mess hall peered at him, Isaac suddenly found himself making a realization.

I know both I and the Restorationists are fighting for own sense of justice. But what is their sense of justice? What exactly does their movement entail? They want to change the world. So did Panama. Jackson wanted money. It’s no different here. There has to be a reason behind Kieran’s actions. If I can just figure that out…is he just an arrogant aristocrat who finds this fun?

The two continued to trade verbal insults. Babs nodded in full support for Isaac; Kieran occasionally shifted his eyes to glance back at Mackenzie.

Isaac’s eyes lit up in recognition. I…have no idea. I’m not a brain expert.

“Cultivation used to belong to the elites,” Kieran explained, his voice simmering. “It was a true martial art back then. But now they’ve let the commoners take part in it. It’s lost its luster and charm. You think trash like yourself or Babs there should be able to eat at the same mess hall as I? People with no manners, charm, etiquette, or knowledge? People with no lineage, no history, and no story? And as for your friend Reed, since she comes from such a great family, she has a story. Ask her about it some time. How she wasted it all, how’s she the black sheep of the family, how she almost lost her mind-”

Kieran gasped as an arm suddenly wrapped itself around his throat. As the younger master sputtered for air, Isaac watched Mackenzie tighten her grip around his neck. “You act like the king, but you’re no better than a fool. Just a dumb fucking cretin.”

The crowd snickered and laughed as Mackenzie hauled Kieran away. That made the younger sibling wrestle himself free, squirming until Mackenzie finally let go. Kieran stared at her, stared at the crowd, and stared back at Isaac for a moment, then popped his collars and left the mess hall in a huff.

Now that the spectacle was over, the cadets went back to their meals and idle conversations. As Isaac sat down and wiped his face, Babs gave him a pat on the back in support, and one of Oksana’s snakes popped out of her hair and gave Isaac a nod of understanding.

Isaac gave it a small smile and nodded back.


“Oh yeah, sure, I’m the black sheep,” Reed confirmed later that evening. Isaac had waited for her to finish cleaning down at the docks, realizing for the first time just how calm the waves of the ocean could be. He even cultivated a little, trying to push the channel to his right-hand-palm meridian, but his thoughts were clouded by worrying about the letter and Kieran’s words about both himself and the girl he was waiting for.

A half-crescent sliver of moon hung in the sky. Reed finally appeared, her messy hair up in a rare ponytail and a rag draped across her shoulder. Isaac caught her up to speed about the random inspection and the events in the mess hall. Reed idly played with the rag while she listened.

“Oh yeah, I got a random inspection, too,” she said. “But what’s odd is that even random inspections aren’t all that random once you get the hang of the schedule. Maybe Babs is right about them inspecting us after we returned from a mission, but I haven’t heard anything about Squad 1 getting an inspection after their mission. It was just us.”

The two racked their brains in thought, then threw up their hands. “Ah, well,” Reed said. “At least the page is safe. They didn’t even sniff my lockbox.”

Isaac sighed in relief. That’s when Reed confirmed that she was the black sheep. Isaac, who had been very close to his own brother and parents, couldn’t understand how a family could willingly write off one of their own.

“I should’ve been born a distant cousin,” Reed supposed. “Or even an illegitimate child. The best place in the family for me would’ve been somewhere where I could’ve enjoyed the perks of being rich in particular while being forgotten about in general. That would’ve suited my family and myself both. Instead, I’m the second child of the Reed family patriarch. I’m from the main family, so that means there are expectations.”

The waves continued to lap gently behind them. “You see, the Reed family got rich because they were the movers and shakers that founded the country. The Cartwright family helped out too on the naval side, while we supplied the army - the feud between our families is part of the reason why Kieran doesn’t like me so much. But then, in the past couple of decades, humans got better at killing each other. Cultivation is in danger of falling behind industrial weaponry. So, there was more pressure on main branch kids like me to be super-duper cultivation prodigies.”

Isaac and Reed were at the same level of Circuitry now. That didn’t bode well for her being a prodigy.

“My older brother is a genius, and my younger sister is already far past me,” Reed said. “But I never had any interest in cultivation. They stuck me in the Army, since the Reeds run the Army and all good Reeds join the Army, but that didn’t do anything to whip me into shape. When things reached a breaking point, I…left for the Navy and didn’t look back.”

A patrol boat steamed out of the dock. “You ran away from the Army to here?” Isaac asked.

Reed nodded. “The flashpoint will be a story for a different time.” She leaned back to gaze up at the empty sky. “Maybe I’m just a spoiled rich kid who doesn’t know how good she’s had it. But sometimes, I really do wish I was just a normal human.”