Please Note: Chapters have been posted in their unedited form and do not fully reflect the final work.
“Fox! Fox, wait a second. I still have to sign in!” I yelled at the retreating form of my instructor as he approached the secure elevator’s biometric scanner.
“Best be quick then,” he said over his shoulder as I fumbled with the Id scanner at Julie’s desk.
Julie taking pity on me winked and told me, “I got the swipe. I’ll do the rest so you best hurry. You know how he gets if you keep him waiting.”
“Thanks Julie, you’re a lifesaver!” I chirped as I waved over my shoulder while I jogged across the lobby to the elevator.
“Glad you could join me Star. What do you say we run your test prep so you don’t make me look bad tomorrow?” he said with a deadpan expression and a flat look in his blue eyes.
Horrified at the thought of making Fox look bad and his use of my codename I stopped dead and just stared at him wide-eyed as the doors to the elevator opened. I respected the hell out of Fox. He’d taken his responsibility of training me seriously and never once made me feel like I was stupid for my lack of experience.
Stepping into the elevator that was fortunately empty, Fox turned with the barest hint of a smirk and said, “You can stop looking like fish gasping for air. I was only teasing. I know how hard you’ve worked and as long as you give it your best, no matter the outcome you will have earned my respect. Now, are you getting on?” he said quizzically raising an eyebrow. “Remember conversation can be just as effective at causing you to lose focus as a physical attack if you let it. “You must be fluid and adaptable mentally as well as physically.”
“Yes sir!” I chirped while blushing furiously and half jumped into the elevator. I have to say I was a little shook, but in a good way. It’s not that Fox doesn’t talk or have a sense of humor, he’s not some silent ninja in black, but he also takes his job very seriously. He gives praise when it’s earned but to say I’ve earned his respect paired with a joke? My already sluggish brain was chugging to process that, and I couldn’t decide what made me happier. The fact that he felt comfortable enough to pick on me, or that I had earned his respect? Of course, he also wrapped it in a teaching moment but I wasn’t about to let that ruin it for me.
“Any particular reason you’re studying the floor so hard Walker?” Fox said as the elevator began its descent to subfloor 5 where the training area was located.
“I’m just nervous about tomorrow and whether I’ll live up to expectations. I’ve trained my powers for years now, and the last year of extensive training has been something I’ve really wanted, but I don’t think it really sunk in what that would mean for the rest of my life. I really hurt my best friend today and I can’t even tell her why. Not to mention leaving college and how this will affect my family. I guess it’s just really hitting home that if I mess up tomorrow it could all be for nothing”, I said while continuing to stare a hole in the floor.
The elevator arrived on subfloor 5 with what felt like a very loud beep and we stepped out into the elevator lobby on the training level. After a few steps Fox turned and fluidly faced me causing me to stop up short and said, “Do you want to quit Walker? Because it’s not too late. Sure you’ll have to mend some bridges in your personal life, and there are a bunch of people here at STAR that have invested time and resources into training and helping you with your powers that will be disappointed, but ultimately that decision is with you. Nobody will make you do this. I think you have immense potential Dani, and I would love nothing more than to see you use that potential to do good in the world, but I would understand why you would choose not to go through with it. Your going to be the face of one the Government’s premier units and once you’ve been certified you’re going to be put in the field on active duty. Lives will be in your hands, and your life will be in others hands. There will be no room for halfway.
“So let me be completely clear. If you’re not committed to doing this I will end this now and withhold my final approval for certification. You can go back to college and do your part for king and country by continuing to come in for yearly testing. No lives on the line, nobody learning who you are and what you can do. Now I’m going to go to the training room and get set up. Go get changed and think about what I said and what you want to do. I expect your answer when you report for training”, Fox said as he walked off leaving me standing there.
For the second time in the span of minutes Fox had rendered me speechless. As I stared at his retreating back I couldn’t help but think that I didn’t like the reason this time nearly as much as the first time. I sighed as Fox continued down the short hallway until he disappeared at the junction to presumably go to the training control room, and headed to the locker room to get changed. I really hoped the room was empty as I wasn’t really up to banter after Fox dropped the hammer on me.
Fortunately the locker room was empy as I began changing out of my civvies and into my practice gear which consisted of a specially designed high-cut white leotard with short sleeves and a zipper front that opened down the middle to my bust line. It was a pretty cool design with red side panels and a red strip across the shoulder with blue trim and a blue star on my chest where the zipper runs through it, and it was designed to help monitor my output during training sessions a provide biometric data for benchmarking. It was only in the last few years of training that it was upgraded to its current white, red, and blue version. The reasoning behind the flashy training suit as it was explained to me was to acclimate me to wearing not just my chosen colors but an outfit that will draw attention. To start conditioning me to be comfortable having the focus on me in high pressure situations because public relations and marketing are going to be an unfortunate byproduct of choosing to be a government-sanctioned supernormal first responder regardless of whether or not PR is something I feel spectacularly unfit for.
Reaching into the locker and pulling out my boots, and gloves I realized that all the hours of training aside even this outfit which was custom designed for me, reflected the commitment of the people who believed in me. Sure I’m not so naive as to believe I’m not being used in some ways for what I can do or bring, but it would be unfair to label everyone like that, I thought as I pulled on the white thigh-high leggings. The leggings were made of the same material as the leotard and had a red stripe on the outside that visually continued the lines of the red side panels from the leotard and were unique as the shoes were built directly into them. My understanding is that the shoes have to be specially reinforced to handle the forces of turning, jumping, and landing with enhanced strength and that the whole thing works together structurally to reinforce and cushion my movements. All I know is that they are very comfortable.
Feeling a bit more centered, I realized that this had almost become a ritual. The act of getting dressed for the last few years to train with Fox and the rest of my instructors signified all the work I had put in toward this goal. It would be silly to back out now right when I’m at the finish line and honestly I would be extremely disappointed in myself if I didn’t do this. Not to mention what kind of example would I be setting for my little brother If I didn’t follow through and qualify? How could I look him in eye if I didn’t do anything but my best? I would be disrespecting everything my parents have done and sacrificed over years. My family never asked for any of this and if I can’t stand for my convictions what can I stand for? How could I ask others to stand for or with me?
Closing my eyes and taking a deep centering breath as Fox taught me to do, I counted to five and exhaled. “Ok let's do this,” I said to the empty locker room and picked up my gloves as I started to close the locker before remembering to reach in and grab the blue garment that was folded on the locker’s shelf before closing it and walking to the back of the room. The exit into the training area was past the showers and the door was conveniently labeled ‘Warning Training Area’ in yellow on it so it was pretty hard to miss. Once out of the locker room you entered the ready room which was a room that had big reinforced windows and seating so that if you weren't in training you could watch what was going on while you waited. There was also a console for controlling the room’s programs and configurations as well as stairs and a lift up to the main control room and viewing area which was two floors above and a door that led to a medical room that could be utilized in the case of any injuries.
Standing at the console typing something was Fox. He was wearing a light version of his tactical armor. Technically speaking Fox is a Special Forces Weapons Specialist with a secondary specialty in Infiltration, but he’s also certified as a hand-to-hand combat instructor and the mess hall gossips say that he’s also some kind of edged weapons specialist. I’d even heard rumors that he’s highly skilled in wetworks, and that he’s supposedly a bit of a legend in special forces circles. The respect he’s given by the base staff leads me to believe that some version of the rumors are true. Even dickface Brunning doesn’t mess with Fox which is the biggest tell that Fox’s reputation as a badass is probably earned and I wasn’t relishing the possibility of having to face him for real.
Remembering how Fox always says that battles are won and lost in the details, I took stock of what weaponry he was carrying. In additions to his tactical armor on his right thigh in a drop holster was a training Sig Sauer 9mm XM17 variant that fires rubber bullets. In the small of his back was an XM18 variant of the Sig and on his left leg was a combat knife., but the biggest surprise was the sword sheathed across his back. He’d used training knives in sessions from time to time, but I’d never seen him use a sword before and I was really hoping it was a training weapon and not actually as pointy and stabby as it looks.
Finishing whatever he was entering with one last button press Fox straightened up and grabbed his gloves and begain putting them on while giving me a droll look and said, “Are you ready?” to which I nodded. “Good, so here’s what’s going to happen. The training room weaponry is going to be set to seventy-five percent of your estimated durability. This means you are going to feel it if you get hit. Firearm rounds will be rubber with a polymer core so they will hurt, and just as in real life you will be most vulnerable in your face so be mindful that you will not be immune from potential injury. Additionally, environmental armaments will be deployed against you so be prepared for anything.
Officially this is a tactical endurance test where the goal is for you to guard a zone indicated by the blue hexagon on the back wall. Full disclosure though, this is a FUBAR test. What are you going to do when you need to protect an asset or guard civilians against an attack of unknown firepower and no backup? The average response time for a supernormal response team to get on site is 5 minutes so that will the timeframe for the test. Lastly, I will be playing the role of a rogue supernormal. Obviously, I will not be trying to severely injure or kill you but I will not be holding back. Now, do you have any questions?” he said.
“No sir,” I said swallowing a sudden lump in my throat. I wasn’t sure I was ready but as Fox had said it was time to sink or swim.
Glancing at the blue garment in my hand Fox remarked, “Oh, and Dani this is a cape on exercise.”
Sheepishly unfolding the blue cloth I was still holding I looked at Fox and asked him, “Can you attach my cape? I didn’t know if I’d need it so I didn’t attach it.”
“Sure,” Fox replied taking the cape from my hand and stepping around behind me. The cape in this case was a single-shoulder cape that hung off my right shoulder. My regular uniform featured a full cape but since this was a training uniform mobility and comfort were prioritized so this uniform featured a detachable asymmetrical design. It let me get used to moving with the garment without having to wear the full thing. There was a soft click as Fox attached the cape to the magnetic anchor at my right shoulder blade.
Fox stepped back around to the entryway and gestured that I should follow him, so I walked with him into the giant space that is the training room with the door wooshing closed behind us. I’ve trained here hundreds of times with Fox and Captain Williams among others but I couldn’t help feeling nervous as I looked around the cavernous space. The room was pretty technologically advanced using some pretty cutting-edge hologram tech. It was explained to me that a Delta with an invention ability had helped design it, and the room would simulate an environment using physical objects and environmental effects to sell the illusion. It was pretty cool in all honesty. At four floors high I could fly to some degree and the walls were reinforced to handle the abuse from supernormals. The training room must take up a significant about of the width of the facility to be this big and house the internal machinery that makes it work.
Once Fox had walked about a third of the way into the room he stopped and put his hand on my shoulder briefly to get my attention and said, “Ok Dani there’s your defense point,” pointing to a blue hexagon shape on the back wall. “Again, the rules are simple, defend your zone. Remember your training. Be observant, but do not hesitate. The battlefield is chaos and you need to be fluid and adaptable. The test ends if you are defeated by being incapacitated, if your zone is breached or if you make it to the 5 minute mark without any of the former conditions being met. Do you understand?”
I nodded my assent with a lukewarm, “Yes sir.”
“Good. Here is your tactical communicator. It is already set for the dispatch channel. Now go take position at your checkpoint. Oh, and Dani. Remember, I will be coming for you and I will not go easy,” he said with a smirk. There was a cold edge to his expression that I can’t ever remember seeing before as he turned his back to me to walk to the front of the training room. Frankly, it gave me chills.
Oh goodie, I get to fight Fox. I’m not sure how this is prep I grumbled to myself while Inserting the earbud-like device into my ear as I floated over to the blue hexagon at the back of the room which was my defensive zone. While Fox had given me the basics of the exercise, I didn’t know exactly know what I was going to be up against. I’d fought Fox plenty of times but it he was instructing and he never was going full out. I knew he was a Delta, and a strong one at that, but I don’t even know what his actual abilities are, just gossip and vague allusions. None of this feels like exam prep, and it didn’t help that the little voice in my head kept screaming ‘Danger, Danger!’.
Which is why I about jumped through the roof when my earbud crackled to life with a crisp, “Overwatch online. Star, confirm coms.” Landing a few yards from my defensive zone I turned to face the control room and responded, “Star confirms. I can hear you loud and clear Overwatch.”
“Overwatch confirms. Hold position Star we’re going to start up the scenario. Once we’re in the green up here we’ll give a warning and countdown from 5. Be advised once the scenario starts, only scenario related communications will be provided.
Looking up at the one-way windows of the main control room I asked, “I don’t recognize your voice overwatch and since the scenario hasn’t started yet I can ask questions right?”
“Nope.” came the response quickly with a hint of a grin in the inflection. I didn’t know who Overwatch was but I at least appreciated they had a sense of humor. I was equally appreciative that they didn’t have assface Brunning in the role. Small victories I suppose.
“Star, systems are green. The scenario is go,” suddenly crackled through the earbud and I franticly looked around for Fox but couldn’t see him anywhere. The ball of anxiety that had been sitting in my gut exploded into fear when the earbud followed up with “Five, Four, Three, Two, One...”