Afraid didn’t even begin to describe how Ben was feeling. He, Alex, and Michael trekked out of Redwood Forest, finally united, and heading towards Jax Stone, the person they have heard scary stories about since they were little. Three inexperienced teenagers were taking on in army. It was so pathetic, Ben was tempted to laugh.
He didn’t even know the other two that well. Sure, Michael seemed like a decent-enough person, and Alex, while temperamental, was suave when he wanted to be, but they still wouldn’t be Ben’s first choice to have his back in a suicidal mission.
What worried Ben most was that the other two had forged a connection in Redwood Forest. Instead of a three-person team, they acted like Ben was an individual while they were a package deal. They would be more worried about each other and may choose to sacrifice Ben to protect the other.
What did Dale refer to us as? The Trifecta? That’s a joke.
Ben slowly stiffened as these thoughts raced through his head. Every step, his concern increased. His poisoned thoughts were spreading throughout his body, worsening his mood considerably. He eyed the two with glowering anger, as though they had already betrayed him just by being friends.
I have to work with them. This is my assignment and I will do it as it was instructed. Maybe if I tried to get to know them, a friendship between the three of us would correct my thoughts.
He took a deep breath and tried for a smile.
“So,” Ben inquired, “what are you guys fighting for?”
Alex, without skipping a beat, responded, “Justice.”
Michael nodded thoughtfully and said, “To protect. How about you?”
“Y’know, until recently, I hadn’t really given it much thought. I always just did what I was told to do. They told me to train, so I trained. They told me to try a certain move, attempt a certain challenge, and I would do it. But lately I have started to question authority. ‘Why should I listen to them? What’s the point?’ I’ve asked myself. Without a purpose, I started to rebel, to slack off. It was very slight, but noticeable. I think that is why Dale sent me out here. To discover the horrors of the world, to give me a reason to try.”
Michael seemed disturbed about this. “He only sent you out here to punish you? That’s despicable.”
Ben gaped at him. “Did you just refer to Dale as despicable?”
Alex piped up, “Yeah, he did. And I agree with him. To put you—and, by extension, all of us—in danger simply to prove a point seems to me like one of those ‘horrors of the world.'”
“I’m sure he had other reasons. That was just my doubt and fear speaking. Do any of us really know how Dale comes to a decision?”
“I suppose you have a point,” Michael speculated. “But still, doesn’t strike you as mysterious? Shouldn’t we be able to understand our leader? How can we trust someone we don’t understand?”
None of them had an immediate answer for this, so they walked in silence for a couple minutes before Alex spoke, his voice softer than usual. “We can’t.”
Ben exclaimed, “Has he led us astray thus far? He has proven to be an effective and powerful leader, so I believe we should trust him.”
Alex countered, “We have been cooped up in Praesidium for the majority of our lives. Maybe we are being manipulated, indoctrinated with his personal beliefs.”
Ben started to say something when Michael cut him off. His voice was questioning, indecisive. “Dale did mention something to me about Jeremy…” He glanced at Alex before rushing on. “He said that Jeremy found some information that he ought not to have found. Maybe he learned something sinister about Dale out here in the real world…”
Alex’s face hardened. “I swear, if Dale had anything to do with my brother’s death, I will—”
“Of course, I am paraphrasing, so the actual message may be a bit off,” Michael hastily added, cutting Alex off. “There is no need to jump to conclusions.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Alex snarled.
“Do you know something I don’t?”
“No? That’s good, because if we are supposed to be a team we should be able to trust each other.”
Ben stepped between the two. “There is no need for anyone to overreact. Let’s just talk this out.”
Alex looked up at him incredulously. “Overreacting, am I? Jumping to conclusions? Maybe you guys are being complacent, and I am reacting normally to a pressured situation that we are unprepared for.”
Ben had had enough of Alex’s childish demeanor. “If you feel unprepared you shouldn’t have run away! You left on your own accord, so stop blaming everyone else. Maybe if you started taking responsibility you wouldn’t be so paranoid.”
Michael looked sick to his stomach as Alex and Ben glared at each other. “Ben, you were just saying that we should talk this out—”
“So Ben is a hypocrite. Good point Michael.”
Michael looked taken aback at this. “No, no, no. That’s not what I meant.”
“Whether you meant it or not doesn’t change the truth.” Alex paused before speaking again, this time addressing Ben. “So you claim we should stop fighting and talk it out, yet the very next time you opened your mouth you were yelling at me. How’s that for self-control?”
Ben sneered. “Please. Self-control is the only reason I haven’t decked you yet.”
Alex laughed, a good hearty laugh, as if he actually found the statement humorous. “Well thank you for allowing me to stay conscious a little longer,” Alex said, his voice riddled with sarcasm.
“Stop acting like a child and talk to us! At least my anger is justified. You are lashing out at everyone else, refusing to accept responsibility for your actions.”
“Oh yeah?” Alex retorted. “Spell icup.”
Ben’s face scrunched up in confusion for a moment, and in that time Michael tried calming everyone down again.
“Guys, this isn’t really necessary. I’m sure we would all be good at killing each other, but I prefer not to get my hands dirty until five.”
“Haha, Michael. Very funny. Now be quiet and let me deal with Alex.”
“‘Deal with Alex?'”
“‘Be quiet?’ Who says you can boss me around? In fact, Dale made me the leader, so you should be the one stepping down and letting me calm down the situation.”
Alex rolled his eyes. “Not this leader crap again. I downright refuse to take orders from either of you. I work best alone anyway.”
Ben stared at Alex with an innocent look on his face. “Oh really? How well did being alone work for you last time?” His voice turned accusatory. “Because I seem to recall you shivering under a tree, completely lost, awaiting death.”
“I would have figured a way out eventually!”
“If you say so.”
“Oh, you little…” Alex drew his knife.
Ben smiled and got into a fighter’s stance. “About time.”
Ben and Alex backed up, each bent slightly, moving on the balls of their feet. They formed an awkward triangle, Michael making up the third point.
Michael, desperate, tried one last time to calm them down. “Guys, guys. This is unnecessary. I understand we are all uncomfortable with our current situation, but we must remain calm. We can talk this out.”
“The time for talking is over,” Ben and Alex said in unison.
And with that final remark, the two boys charged each other.