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Your orientation to the Red Right Hand began twelve years ago. It started with a long paved road through an old growth forest. A wrought iron gate that felt like thumbs pressed hard against your temples as you passed. An edifice of concrete and glass that failed to reach above the highest trees. The bus disgorged your small group like a bird feeding its young.

St. Eustace's Academy of Public and Private Service was not a name you had ever heard before standing in a solemn row of students at the induction ceremony. Your parents said little before sending you off to yet another school. That's just how they were. You said little in return to them. That's just how you've always have been. The principal spoke solemnly about the blessedness of work for the good of mankind for what felt like hours. Classes began later that day.

You did all the same things as in the other schools. Math. Science. Languages. More than a few of your teachers had vicious scars and missing limbs. No students received preferential treatment in the handful of classrooms. Things quickly settled into a normal routine all the same. Running laps around the building was a pleasant diversion. Kicking at your classmates' padded bodies was a welcome distraction. Your roommate cried in the bunk above you some nights, but not because of bruises.

You ended up in the nurse's office time after time with hours missing from your mind. Days, sometimes. Other things quickly filled the gaps left behind. You lost a day and remembered a handful of French adverbs like they were seared into your brain. You lost a week and the series of motions to preform a shoulder throw became a new gospel. It was not an experience singular to you. Rumors about the collective forgetting festered in the student body, a group of nearly one-hundred. The ones who spoke the most always ended up forgetting the most. You kept to yourself as much as you could, but not so much that you failed to notice when other students disappearing.

Just two or three of cohort went missing at first, then ten or eleven. Your roommate vanished, then one of your few friends. All the instructors would say about it was that you would find out in time. They shouldn't have phrased it as a challenge. Picking the lock on the teacher's lounge was not so different than breaking into a convenience store. Logging onto the computers was a different story, but there were still plenty of papers to dig through.

A security guard caught you with a giant stack of them in your hands. His flashlight was blinding, and you bristled at the way he shouted at you, just like you bristled at all the cops who had ever done the same. He grabbed at your uniform. You bit his arm. He pushed your head away. You kicked up into his crotch. He sprayed a violently green can at your face. You passed out.

You wake once, and see the familiar ceiling on the nurse's office. Sleep comes as the lights flare brighter. You wake again, and see a woman staring right into your eyes. Sleep washes over you as she turns to speak to someone else. You wake a third time, and find yourself sitting at a table in the school councilor's office. She's not there, but one of your instructors is. All that remains in your memory of Mr. Parsons is the way his thick fingers would settle on the long scar wrapping from one ear to the other shoulder.

"It's been years since anyone was so direct." He hid his disappointment better than past teachers had.

"Don't bother calling my parents." You made little effort to sound remorseful.

"'wouldn't dream of it. You're Elizabeth, right? Or were you the Lizzy?"


"I wouldn't dream of it, Elizabeth. Tell me though, why the break-in?"

"No one would tell me what's going on."

"Sorry, I didn't mean it like that. Didn't you notice any of the other clues? On the grounds? On the intranet? In any of the gossip we planted?"

"That stuff's all complicated," you said, wiggling your hands ambivalently. "I like when stuff's simple."

"No, no, it's not like that at all. You say simple. You're thinking stupid. Everyone's been making you think that way, but it's wrong. You like doing thing in person. With your hands. It's a teacher's job to help you find the best ways to learn. So, Elizabeth, would you like to take more interesting classes?"

You nodded, and expected them to try calling your parents anyway.

You got a new room in a new building, and new classes with new classmates. The instructors told you to hurt them as best as you could. You beamed with pride when they submitted first. The instructors gave you a pile of gun parts and learned how to assemble them. Your chest puffed up with pride when you finished fastest. The instructors opened the cleaning closet and told you to make something dangerous. You accidentally blew the windows out of the classroom, but your heart swelled up all the same. For the first time in your life, you felt good at something and were appreciated for it.

The total sum of your injuries over those two years: Seven broken bones and more fractures than you could count; thirteen burns of varying degrees; three serious puncture wounds; one severe electrocution, and one severe case of poisoning. There were hints of strange things happening at the edges of your world all along the rolling days of excitement and injury, but your investigations offered nothing new or interesting. Just a few messages to your instructors from the foundation that paid for the school. Life had been satisfying anyway.

You did well enough to get moved into the school's advanced placement program, and then well enough there to be selected for a special studies track. Men and women in gray camouflage uniforms sat in on some of the classes and watched their practicals intently. The other students theorized that they worked for this military, that spy service, or even some mysterious PMC. You were always sure that the truth would be far more interesting.

A rainy day in the middle of October