“How much did it cost you?”
Max dropped his tattered backpack on to the steps. Megan picked at one of the fraying edges. He’d had that bag since their first year here, and now it was coming apart, just like she was.
“Twenty-two,” she said.
“Thank fuck for that,” Max said, unsuccessfully trying to balance himself on the railings.
“How can you say that?” Megan said, eyes shimmering as she fought back tears. “I’m ruined!”
“Makes my ninety-three seem better.”
“Oh Max, I’m so sorry, I didn’t realise.”
He slipped and nearly broke his tail bone. What was another few thousand credits on fixing his ass when he’d spent nearly a hundred on his head. Megan found his invoice amongst the junk in his bag, running over the line items.
Six years of education. Use of facilities. Meals. Tablets. They’d even billed him for that time he blocked up the loos in year two. His total was 117 thousand credits, less 20% for low-income compassion. It might as well have been a million.
Megan hid the slip, but Max had already seen. He plopped onto the steps beside her, staring at the school across the fields. Most people started their lives with a debt, but he’d probably finish his still paying it off. Megan leant against his shoulder.
“22,499 credits. Nice,” Max said, reading her own invoice.
“What? How did you?”
He held the paper in front of her, shrugging awkwardly with her face still pressed against one shoulder. Never one to pass up an opportunity he had returned the favour.
“Wow, you did good.”
“Not good enough.”
“Eighteen As and nothing below a B. No wonder they gave you such a big discount.”
“If I work at an Axis subsidiary.”
“That doesn’t rule out much. At least you’re not joining the Corps.”
“Oh Max, no, you can’t. The interest repayments alone are…”
“Better than working in the poorhouse.”
Megan leant in closer, hugging Max tightly. They were inseparable. Like brother and sister, from the moment Max had protected Megan from bullies and she in turn had helped him learn calculus. And now they would end up worlds apart.
“Hey, have you guys heard?”
If Max was her brother, James would have been his annoying younger sibling. He had a perpetual knack for arriving at the most inopportune times.
“What is it Jim?” Max said, extricating himself from Megan.
“We all got a refund.”
Megan stifled a giggle and Max punched her playfully in the arm. James wasn’t the brightest, so Max sometimes had to protect him. That’s why he was joining the marines, to look after people. Given his test results, it was the only thing he was capable of.
“That’s not how it works James,” Megan said. “We get a discount, depending on how well we did. You still have to pay.”
“No, really,” James said, pulling out his own invoice. In big red letters, VOID was stamped in the top corner. Megan pulled it out of his hands, as if she could check the authenticity with her own eyeballs.
James brandished a chit card, the official currency of the Axis Educational Facilities and associated companies. He thumbed the readout and beamed.
“No way,” Max said. Now it was his turn to grab something. “A quarter mil. They gave you a quarter mil?”
“Nope. They’ve given everyone 250,000. Estimated cost of re-education along with loss of earnings for time spent.”
“I don’t get it,” Megan said.
James squeezed himself before Max and Megan, kicking Max’s bag to the step below. He flung arms around both of them, waving at the school.
“This whole place, the staff, the programs. All unaccredited.”
“The district report came in and found out Axis had forgotten to renew their licence ten years ago. They could either cough up the fines for the decade or pay every student reparations.”
“So I don’t owe ninety-three thousand credits?”
“Bro,” James said, flicking his chit in between his fingers, “we’re gonna do just fine.”
Prompt originally posted by Gamekiller48 on reddit and received 2 upvotes.