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A Soldier and a Liar
Published by: Swoon Reads
Publication date: February 19th 2019
Genres: Dystopian, Science Fiction, Young Adult
In a world on the brink of war, four superpowered teens must learn to work together for peace in Caitlin Lochner’s action-packed debut novel, A Soldier and A Liar.
Lai Cathwell is good at keeping secrets. As a Nyte, a supernaturally gifted teenager who is feared and shunned by the ungifted, this skill is essential to survival. Orchestrating her own imprisonment to escape military duty has only honed her ability to deceive others. But when rebels start attacking the city, Lai is dragged back into the fight with a new team of Nytes.
Thrown together with Jay, a self-conscious perfectionist consumed by the desire to be accepted; Al, a short-tempered fighter lying for the sake of revenge; and Erik, an amnesiac hell-bent on finding his memories and his place in the world, Lai realizes she’s facing an entirely different kind of challenge–one that might just be impossible. But if this team can’t learn to work together, the entire sector will be plunged into war.
“All right, since we’re all here, let’s get started,” Kitahara says. His eyes run over us, surveying but not critical. They stop on me, so I narrow in on his thoughts. She wouldn’t have had the chance to train with anyone since she entered prison. I’ll partner with her and we can take it easy today.
I smile thinly.
“It’ll be helpful to be able to watch each other fight, so we’ll take turns. Cathwell and I will partner together first and try to get a rough idea of each other’s fighting styles. Mendel, Johann, you’ll watch us and then do the same.” Kitahara thinks a moment, then adds, “For now, no gifts. Let’s see what we can each do without them.”
“No gifts?” Mendel asks with a single raised eyebrow. What a pain. “What’s the point in that? It’s not like we won’t be able to use them on the battlefield.”
“What, afraid you can’t win without it?” Johann asks, the tiredness from before slowly being replaced by excitement. Finally something interesting.
“Just asking.” Mendel shrugs with an air of carelessness. Damn this guy is annoying. How long is this supposed to last, anyway?
“You never know what might happen in battle,” Kitahara says. “Besides, there wouldn’t be any point in you two sparring if one of you could just burn your opponent alive while the other flings his partner through the roof.” At Mendel and Johann’s joint silence, he shakes his head. “This is to help us get to know each other better. A bonding exercise, if you will.”
Even without words, I can hear Johann and Mendel’s internal groans.
Well, this is off to a great start.
We all stretch together, and then Johann and Mendel back up to give us some space. Kitahara and I face each other.
Okay, we’ll start nice and slow. Ease into it.
If I wasn’t mildly amused by Kitahara’s misconception about where I am in terms of strength, I might be insulted. It’s only because I know he’s coming from a logical thought process that I can tolerate him looking down on me. After all, he has no way of knowing I’ve been training regularly with fellow members of the Order for the past few years.
Still, just because he intends to go easy on me doesn’t mean I’m going to do the same for him. He did say no gifts, though, so I flex my hands and tune out all the voices in my head.
“Ready?” Kitahara asks. What a gentleman.
He comes at me first. Even though I’ve stopped listening in on his thoughts, I can tell by the purposeful slowness with which he moves that he’s holding back.
He leads with a punch—a hit I easily avoid by skipping sideways—and follows with a swift kick. I catch his ankle and pull him forward off balance. Before he has time to regain it, my leg swings up to land a solid kick of my own to his side. He’s not fast enough to block it, and ends up crashing to the floor.
Okay, maybe I should’ve held back a little.
He rubs the side of his head as he sits up. “Nice, um, job.”
“Thanks,” I say as I loosen my grip over my gift. “You were a little slow.”
I noticed. “Yeah. I’ll work on my timing.” I didn’t expect her to be so fast. Okay, so that was too much holding back. Noted. He looks to Johann and Mendel. “All right, you’re both up.”
Cathwell’s faster than I expected. The grudging thought belongs to Johann, who glances at me as we trade places. I wonder if she’s actually any good or if it was a fluke.
Johann puts aside thoughts of me to focus on Mendel. The former is clearly more into this than the latter, who barely looks bothered to hold up his fists.
Mendel isn’t going to last like that.
Johann charges forward. Mendel is slow to block the punch that comes his way, and falls back several steps. But he doesn’t fall, so the sergeant major keeps throwing punches, keeps pushing him back.
There’s nothing extraordinary about the way Mendel fights—or maybe he just can’t be bothered to go all out—but Johann’s motions are fluid, precise, strong. There are no wasted movements, no reckless shots. That, coupled with a gift over fire, makes for a near invincible fighting style. I’m glad we’re on the same side.
Johann is just about to land what is clearly the finishing strike when Mendel’s hands fly up in defense. Despite not actually touching his opponent, Johann gets sent flying several yards back, landing on hands and knees with a fury-filled expression.
“What the hell, Mendel?” Johann snarls. “The rule was no gifts.”
Mendel throws up his hands, but it’s hard to tell if it’s out of self-defense or annoyance. “It was reflex, all right? I just reacted without thinking.”
“Is not thinking a habit of yours? Because I can see how that would be hard to shake.”
I laugh. Johann and Mendel both turn glares on me.
“What?” I say. “That was funny.”
“Everyone, calm down,” Kitahara says. His gaze shifts uneasily between Johann and Mendel. “Mendel, you know you weren’t supposed to use your gift. It defeats the purpose of this exercise, and puts you at an unfair advantage against Johann, who followed the rules.”
Irritation flickers over Mendel’s face, but he wipes it off quickly. Calm down. I don’t want to deal with any more annoyances than I have to. “Look, I’m sorry, okay? I didn’t mean to use my gift. It won’t happen again.”
“See that it doesn’t,” Johann says. The sergeant major doesn’t even glance at Mendel as the both of them stalk back to where Kitahara and I stand.
The major turns to me. His expression is troubled, but he only says, “Let’s go again.” Maybe Johann and Mendel can use the time to cool down.
And so we return to the center and resume our stances. This time Kitahara doesn’t ask if I’m ready. He waits for me to come at him.
I’m not usually the first to attack, but I can tell he’s still underestimating me, so I lunge forward to feign a punch.
He sees through the attack and ducks both my punch and the follow-up kick to his stomach. He aims a fist near my shoulder, but I drop down and spring up behind him.
He whirls around to catch a punch that would’ve otherwise connected with the space between his shoulder blades. He tries to drag me forward, but I jerk my hand back, pulling him along with it, and aim another kick at his stomach. He lets go of my wrist and I clip him as he moves back—but not enough to throw him off balance. He responds with a swing intended for my upper arm.
His intention is too obvious, though, which makes the attack easy to dodge and even easier to counterattack. As soon as he swings forward, I kick his ankles straight out from under him. He hits the floor.
“Your movements are good,” he says. “Fast, strong, and well-calculated. Very nice.” I’m surprised to find no grudgingness in either his voice or his thoughts. He’s genuinely pleased I’m a good fighter.
“Thanks. You’re not so bad yourself.” I offer a hand to pull him up, and he takes it.
Looks like I didn’t need to worry about holding back after all. Kitahara looks over to Johann and Mendel, who are silently fuming and bordering an edge between annoyed and bored, respectively. I wonder if either of them even bothered to watch our spar.
They’re still mad. Should I split them up? No, whatever this is, they’re going to have to work it out before we head out tomorrow. “All right, you two are up,” Kitahara says. He almost adds in a reminder to not use their gifts, thinks that will probably just make them both more irritated, and holds off.
We all switch spots.
Johann, who’s realized Mendel isn’t taking this seriously at all, is much less into the match this time. Now both their stances are lacking, neither of them looking happy and neither of them about to go into this match with an ounce of care.
This isn’t going to end well.
Johann starts again this time, probably because we all know Mendel isn’t about to make any moves on his own.
The punches that were before so full of power and purpose now fall with barely suppressed anger. Mendel’s blocks are thrown up carelessly, thoughtlessly. It’s almost painful to watch.
A crackle ripples through the air before it happens.
A flare of red flames ignites from Johann’s fist as it connects with the arm Mendel flung up in half-hearted defense. He shouts and falls to the ground, clutching his arm to his chest with hate in his eyes. He manages to diminish the look to pure anger in seconds.
“Weren’t you just harping on me for using my gift?” Mendel demands. “Then two seconds later you turn around and use yours!”
“Sorry,” Johann says in a way that is not apologetic at all. “It was reflex.”
Mendel looks like he’s about to snap Johann’s neck. Before he can try, Kitahara rushes to stand between them. Despite the worry in his thoughts, his voice is surprisingly steady. “Look, everyone’s tense. We’re bound for a difficult mission tomorrow, and with teammates none of us are familiar with. Right now, we need to calm down and learn how to work together.”
“Work together?” Johann asks. “I’ve never needed to work together with anyone in my life. I don’t need this team, and I don’t need you forcing me to try and accept it. I can take care of myself. The rest of you can figure out how to survive on your own.” And with that, the sergeant major stomps out of the room.
(Um, so, wow bios are hard.) I studied creative writing at the University of South Florida and used my BA in words to become an English teaching assistant in Tokyo. I’m in love with storytelling of any kind, but especially in the form of books, manga, and video games. If you ever want to talk nerdy, I am VERY down.