Chapter 37:

The Young Master IX - "The Friend Group"

Destiny Marine

Thursday. High thirties. Light showers, endless clouds.

“I see you’re back for more,” Babs called out to Kieran as he and Isaac joined her and their friends on the walk to the training hall.

“I seem to recall you missing more than your fair share of |Winds of Change|,” Kieran tossed right back at her. But this was different. This wasn’t haughty arrogance. This was mere teasing, or at least on the road towards it.

Babs recognized this. “Wow. Kieran has jokes.”

“I have jokes!” Lynn exclaimed. When everybody looked at her, she sighed. “No. No I don’t actually.”

“What are you training in there?” Isaac asked her. As usual, Lynn appeared on the verge of tears, but the question perked her spirits up a little.

“M-me?” She pointed at her shoes. “Well, you see, my power is super speed. Not super duper speed, but still pretty fast. But I have to stop and go back to normal speed before I punch something, since otherwise I’d damage myself like a car crash. So, I’m working on a fist tempering art that’ll make my wrist, knuckles…well, my whole hand strong enough to punch while I’m in super speed mode.”

Lynn twiddled her thumbs, and the streak of blue in her hair bounced as she walked. “It’s really hard, but I don’t know. I think I’m improving at it.”

The majority of the group gave her a nod of approval, while Kieran had a puzzled look on his face, as if he was closely examining her words.

The session in the training hall went the same way as yesterday. Isaac grinned as the hours went by; he was now striking the dummy more often than not, and his power was steadily escalating too. He was closing in on Rank I.

A question from Kieran brought a temporary pause to his training. “Isaac…I do think I’m improving on this, but I still feel like I’m missing something.” He looked almost reluctant to ask. “Do you have any more bits of advice?”

Isaac racked his brain. He had already run through all the advice from Babs, so he turned his thoughts toward Reed. To her credit, his squad leader had such a chameleon-like ability to mimic her cool movie character of choice and give such charismatic advice that Isaac couldn’t even hope to emulate her. But he could still try to at least get the message across.

“You need to be like water,” Isaac explained. “When water faces an obstacle, water doesn’t feel frustrated. Water just adapts and keeps trying to flow. Same with you. You’re struggling with the |Flechette Storm|, but rivers don’t form in just a day or even in weeks. It takes time. It takes continual effort across time.”

Kieran nodded at that; he almost looked grateful to hear it. “Who told you that?”

“Well, I kind of added my own outlook there at the end, but I first heard it from Reed.”

A confused look answered Isaac. “Reed?” Kieran repeated, almost dumbfounded. “But she’s the black sheep of her family.”

“You should stop saying that,” Babs called out to him with a frown on her face. “She’s not the black sheep when it comes to this family.” She drew a circle with her hands that included herself, Isaac, Demetrius, and Lynn. Kind of corny, but Isaac liked it nonetheless.

“That’s nice,” Kieran said simply, as if slipped out of him rather than having any thought behind it. “Not being a black sheep…that’s great for her.”

Before Isaac could ask about the change in attitude, Kieran went back to his training. It continued on like that for the rest of the evening.


Friday. High forties. Partly cloudy with a low chance of rain.

Isaac nodded in approval as Kieran blew the training dummy’s head clean off. Unfortunately, it wasn’t with the |Flechette Storm| - Kieran had used his |Iron Fists|. Training on Friday evening was more about blowing off steam, and Kieran certainly had some pent-up frustration to blow away. Plus, Osip had recommended to the cadets that if they hit a continual snag in their training, it would be a good idea to switch things up for a little bit.

Such a tactic paid dividends to Kieran, who was in a much better mood than at the start of the week, even though he hadn’t unlocked |Flechette Storm| yet. He cleaned up the ruins of his training dummy with a smile on his face. A new face joined him in cleaning up - Oksana had finally joined her friends. She had wordlessly joined them on the walk to the training hall, and after some prompting, revealed that her training on the fields involved cultivating for Circuit 2.

“I am now Circuit 2,” she proclaimed without any fanfare at the conclusion of her story. In his head, Isaac put it bluntly - she was definitely the oddest of the bunch, with her perpetual disheveled expression, the snakes living in her hair, and her obsession with radio towers and power lines, but she was still Circuit 2 and not to be trifled with. She was also, in her own way, part of the friend group, and to be honest, it felt nice to have the whole group together in the training hall.

Well, maybe not whole group. Only the newest cadets trained in the halls at the moment. It would be nice to have Reed and Dan there as well - they had access to an even more exclusive training area elsewhere in the base. Hell, even Mackenzie could join, since Isaac was in a good mood. Fortunately, since it was a Friday night, such a problem could be rectified.

As marines and cadets streamed out of the training hall for dinner, Isaac approached Kieran. The rich kid usually left to continue training on his own while the others went to the mess hall, but Isaac decided tonight would be different. “Hey, Kieran, you want to get dinner with us?”

Kieran tilted his head. “You guys actually want me to eat dinner with you?”

Isaac shrugged. “Well, sure. We’re all cadets at the end of the day. Who knows? They might even have us on a mission together someday.”

As he scratched his temple, Kieran looked at the group. Babs was the first to answer.

“You got jokes, Kieran. Let’s hear them at dinner.”

“I would like to defeat you in sparring one day,” Demetrius admitted. “But I have more respect for a bested friend than an unknown enemy.”

“I like agreeing with the majority opinion so I feel included!” Lynn exclaimed.

“...” Oksana added in support.

Kieran chuckled, then looked away. He pushed dark hair off his forehead. “But…I’ve been such a jackass to you guys.”

“You were, and still kind of are,” Isaac said. “But I don’t know. We’re all just people, you know?”

With the training hall essentially emptied, things went quiet for a moment. Only the sounds of the whirring industrial fans above them kept the group company. Finally, Kieran nodded.

“I suppose you’re right.”


“Reed’s going to be there with Dan,” Babs explained to Kieran as they waited in line at the mess hall. “You owe her an apology.”

“For what?” Kieran asked in disbelief.

“All that talk about her being a black sheep,” she reminded him. “She wasn’t there for it, but she knows about it, and if you’re going to sit with her, you need to apologize for something like that.”

The line cook splattered a glop of gruel on Kieran’s tray. “But I’ve never apologized before.”

Another glop fell onto Isaac’s tray. “Now’s a good time to start.”

Once they all had their meals, the group of Isaac, Babs, Demetrius, Lynn, Oksana, and Kieran walked toward Reed and Dan’s table - the one all the way in the corner where Reed usually ate alone at lunch. This time, a couple of northerners occupied the far end of the table, only giving the group a passing glance as they arrived. Kieran looked conflicted as he walked past his usual table where all the wealthier cadets sat; they gave him confused looks as he continued on past them.

Reed was in the middle of animatedly explaining something to Dan when the group arrived. She cocked her head as Kieran arrived, but didn’t say anything. As the rest of their friends sat down, Kieran remained standing.

“I…have been a shrew,” he admitted. Isaac didn’t understand, but a word like that made sense among the rich, since Reed nodded in recognition. “I kept calling you a black sheep, but really, I’m just a black sheep too. Maybe I was just taking it on you. I’m sorry.”

The table went quiet. Reed kept her eyes locked on him for a moment. It almost grew awkward, Reed just staring upwards at him while Kieran stood there, not knowing what else to say.

“Well?” Reed said. “Sit down. What is this, some children’s story where we all go around talking about our feelings? Nonsense. I got things to do, or rather, I got things to explain. Now sit, sit.”

Kieran slid into the open seat next to Oksana; she silently offered him some of the goop on her tray, which he respectfully declined.

“All right,” Reed declared. “All we’re missing is Mackenzie now-”

“Speak of the devil,” a new voice said as she arrived, “And she shall appear.”

Mackenzie held a tray full of gruel, which made her like anyone else sitting at the table, but the look in her eyes betrayed her sense of superiority. “What’s going on here? Dan, why did you ask me here? And why’s Kieran here?”

“Kieran’s eating dinner with us,” Dan explained calmly. “And I’ve heard he’s been training with our fellow squadmates. Now, sit with us, Mackenzie. Reed has something she wants to say.”

“Wants?” Mackenzie repeated. The confusion on her face almost hid all the curiosity hiding behind it. She sat next to Kieran and listened. All eyes and ears were now on Reed.

She placed her hands calmly on the table. “Almost dying has given me a new lease on life,” she declared. “I have something near and dear to me, and I’ve come to realize that, at least once, I want to share it with you all.”

“Even me?” Lynn asked, pointing at herself in surprise.

Reed nodded. “Yes, Lynn, even you.”

Lynn made a small motion of pumping her fist, then went back to listening.

“During the last weekend of every month, the downtown International Color Studios cinema features a special double deal - an afternoon matinee then a nightly marathon. I have gone to every double deal since I was thirteen. And every time, I’ve gone alone. This time, I’d like to bring all of you there.”

“You want us to watch movies with you?” Mackenzie repeated, clearly losing interest.

“Yes,” Reed simply said. “But you wouldn’t get it. It’s three dollars for the afternoon matinee and three dollars for the one at night! Six dollars, and the evening session features two movies! Six dollars for four movies! But, if you go the afternoon matinee, once you’re inside the theater, you don’t have to leave. You can stay inside the cinema and watch another movie to kill time, and then go watch the nightly marathon for three. So it’s three dollars for four movies!”

Before Mackenzie could protest, Reed slammed a hand on the table. “And it’s not just any movies. Tomorrow’s afternoon matinee is Lava Beam 1 and Lava Beam 2: Beam Harder! And the nightly movies are Urban Dragon, Urban Dragon the Revengenator, and Sister Urban Dragon!”

Isaac gasped. “They’re playing all five of Lucky Suga’s movies from his edgy phase?”

“You fucking bet, Isaac!”

“Who’s Lucky Suga?” Lynn asked.

Reed looked at her as if she was simple in the head. “Only the greatest kung fu action star of our generation. Hell, he started the current wave of kung fu movies. In short, he’s an international hero, and even better - all five of these are in color!”

The group looked at each other to gauge everyone’s interest. Oksana’s face remained her usual blank expression, while the Cartwright siblings didn’t look too excited.

“I’ll go,” Isaac said, hoping to get the ball rolling. “You can’t beat three dollars for four color movies.”

“I will go as well,” Demetrius added. “During my childhood, Lucky Suga’s physique inspired me to improve my own. Such muscles. Such glory!”

“Uh…I’ll, I’ll go in that case,” Lynn quietly said. Her eyes had a slightly glazed over look to them as Demetrius continued to describe Suga’s body to her.

Dan just shrugged. “I got nothing better to do.”

“Movies are kick-ass,” Babs said. “And you guys are alright, too. Count me in.”

That just left three people. Mackenzie looked unconvinced. Oksana remained quiet. Kieran actually spoke first.

“I’ve never seen a movie before. Are they that good?”

“My God,” Reed exclaimed. “What, you go to the opera instead or something like that?” When both Cartwright siblings nodded, she just sighed. “Then you guys better go. Operas are just fat women singing, right? Movies are just like that, except you can have fat men sing as well, as well as all sorts of people. Gunmen, hitmen, conmen, muggers, smugglers, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, adventurers, soldiers, normal people, extraordinary people, people from Arcadia, people from Sina and Sigismund and Atalanta. Anything could be made into a film. There’s no rules. All you need is a camera and imagination.”

The table had gone quiet as Reed gave her speech. It contained far more passion than she ever shared before. It was enough to convince Kieran; the encouraging smiles probably helped, too.

“I’ll go,” Kieran quietly decided.

“I’ll go too, then,” Oksana mumbled.

That just left Mackenzie. She folded her arms across her chest and tapped her foot against the ground, thinking and mulling it over. The collective pressure from eight stares made her speak.

“Alright, alright,” she finally said. She turned her head. “Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not going for any of your sakes. I just want to see if it really is better than the opera or not.”

And that’s how the first - and last - Squads 1, 2, and 3 collective outing began.