Chapter 4

Please Note: Chapters have been posted in their unedited form and do not fully reflect the final work.

“Dani…Dani. Dani wake up! Come on kid, I know you took a knock but you need to wake up”, through the throbbing haze that was my return to consciousness I could vaguely hear a voice that was familiar. 

“Ten more minutes Mom. I had a nightmare that I fought a cheese grater and lost,” I groaned while keeping my eyes shut tight and hoping that the dull throbbing pain all over my body would disappear.

A chuckle greeted my response and the voice I now recognized as belonging to Dr. Robinson shot back, “As your doctor, I would love nothing else than to let you rest right now but I figured you wouldn’t want to keep Colonel Morales and Captain Williams waiting.”

My eyes snapped open at hearing that and I sat bolt upright on an exam bed in a room that I guessed was the medical room attached to the training facility. Regret immediately assailed me as a thunderbolt of pain lanced through my head, and judging from its intensity it had to have been thrown by Zeus himself. A wave of nausea ran through me and I must have started to sway a little as Dr. Robinson put a steadying hand on my shoulder. A relatively tall woman somewhere in her fifties who was just now starting to show some softness around the edges with blonde hair that had started to turn grey. She had piercing grey eyes that never missed a thing but with an accumulation of smile lines that foretold of a sharp wit mixed with an easy sense of humor, it was impossible not like Dr. Robinson. She serves as the doctor in charge of the facility’s medical department and was highly respected by nearly everyone on the base having earned that respect by serving in the field and her fantastic bedside manner. 

“Easy there hot rod. I didn’t mean for you to try and run out of here. They can wait until you’re a little more steady. Now if you can stay sitting up I want to run a quick couple of tests to make sure you don’t have a concussion,” Dr. Robinson said while grabbing a penlight from her coat pocket, “I’m going to check your pupils and ask you some questions. What’s your callsign?”

“My original callsign was Stella but currently it’s Star,” I answered, “But Brunner calls me Stuperstar,” ugh why did I share that? I definitely took a hit to the head.

Dr. Robinson chuckled softly saying, “Well Brunner doesn’t count because he’s an asshat,” while shining her penlight into my eyes. 

I couldn’t help but snort at that, “I know, right!”

“Well your pupils are reacting normally and your sense of humor is intact so that’s good. What’s your brother’s name,” she asked suddenly. 

“Evan. My brother’s name is Evan, my dad is Daniel, and my mom is Amy. Their cat’s name is Nova, so do I pass?” I said with a bit of a smirk.

“You’re entirely too much of a wise ass sometimes young lady,” she said while chuckling. “I’m going to give you some painkillers because no matter how good your healing is I imagine you’re still feeling getting knocked around like that.”

“Um, yeah. That would be great actually. My head is still pounding and honestly I kind of ache everywhere. So…um, do you know what happened out there. It seemed kind of intense for a practice session. I mean If that was the easy version don’t even want to think about what tomorrow is going to be like,” I said while reaching out to take the little paper cup with two big pills in it from her. 

“Well I can’t go into too many details but the gist of it is that Fox went at you pretty hard. I don’t know what he was thinking using an explosive in a training session, but at the end there the door you were holding was one of the physical constructs in the room so when the explosive when off it absorbed some of the blast. Unfortunately, a piece of it hit you in the head whenit splintered and knocked you out which of course meant you stopped flying and ragdolled into the ground,” she explained as she handed me a water cup. 

“After that, the simulation was terminated. Fox carried you to the medical room and since I was put on standby for this exercise I rushed down to make sure you were ok. All jokes aside you need to take it easy for a day or two. You took a hard knock and will need to pay attention for signs of concussion for the next twenty four hours. Also, you’ve got pretty gnarly bruising where you were shot. In the areas where the bullets hit your uniform, it’s not too bad but your forearms and hip are probably going to be some glorious shades of purple and green in the next few days. 

The upside is that you wrenched Fox’s shoulder pretty good when you flung him across the room which serves him right for getting carried away,” she said with more than a little edge. 

Doctor Robinson is generally a sweetheart of a woman but when she considers you one of her patients she can be downright fierce in making sure that your well being is taken care of. As feared as Fox may be, I have a feeling she was going to get her two cents worth of him at some point in the near future. 

“When you're done taking your pills I need you to stand up so I can see how your balance is, and if everything is ok I want you to take off that uniform and put on the medical gown on the counter over there so I can give you quick once over now that you’re awake.”

“Ok, but no judgment if I face plant,” I said as I took a breath and downed the pills she gave me. All jokes aside I was hoping they didn’t take long to kick in. My head was throbbing as well as various other parts of my body. Setting down the now empty paper cups I scooted to the edge of the table. Dr. Robinson moved closer with a look of concern and was clearly ready to help if I needed it. 

I scooted off the table and winced as my leg took my weight but otherwise was able to stand without the room spinning. When I looked down at my hip I could see a bandage and an angry red spot. I looked up at the doctor and asked, “Did I get cut?”

“You did,” she answered. “When Fox brought you in and got you on the table I did a quick exam to see if anything was wrong besides the head injury. As I said you have bruising to your forearms which will not be enjoyable but with the way you heal will be a minor inconvenience. The same for your sternum where your uniform blunted the trauma from Fox’s sidearm. 

The real damage was from the sniper rifle with its higher velocity. The shot to your shoulder was again blunted by your uniform but it was still a pretty heavy hit and I expect some deep tissue bruising. Now the shot to your hip was by far the hardest hit you took. Essentially you took a bullet right to your exposed skin which with nothing to blunt the impact managed to cause a minor pressure cut. I cleaned it and pushed it back together and used some skin glue to close it and bandaged it. I don’t expect a scar, it’s pretty small still it’s a good reminder you’re not invincible, eh.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I replied. “I knew it hurt a lot but I never even stopped to look. I figured if I could move it couldn’t be that bad.”

She sighed a bit before replying, “Heroes…honestly that’s not much of a surprise. Adrenaline does crazy things and I’ve seen soldiers with parts blown off not even noticing until they have a chance to slow down and stop, but that’s a bit morbid so let's change the topic. I’m going to go out and talk to Fox, so you go ahead and get changed into the gown. Everything off but the undies. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” 

As she stepped out into the training room’s ready room I limped over the counter to get the gown so I could change, the realization of how crazy the last half hour had been started to hit. I’d never been in a training like that and I still wasn’t sure just what that was all about. Hell, I didn’t even know if I achieved the goal and passed or failed because I got myself knocked out. 

Unzipping the leotard and slipping it over my shoulder was agony and I’m glad Dr. Robinson had stepped out as more than a few unsavory words were said during the process. At least after getting my shoulders out it was relatively easy to shimmy the garment the rest of the way down and step out of it with the aid of the counter to hold on to. Sigh, the bra was going to suck. Taking a deep breath I gritted my teeth through getting it over my head and then slipped the medical gown over my head. Fortunately, this was the style of gown that opens and closes in the front so I wasn’t showing the world my backside. Tying the sash to close the gown so I didn’t flash anyone I bent over to pick up my uniform with a groan and folded it and put it on the counter. 

Now for the hard part, how to get the leggings off? In the end it took more than a few tries and a lot of grunts but I managed to work them off right as Dr. Robinson came back into the room carrying a stack of clothes. 

“Good news,” she said with a grin. “I had Fox arrange to get your clothes from your locker.”

“Oh thank God. I really wasn’t looking forward to putting that uniform back on,” I said with relief on my face.

“From the looks of this stack of clothes you're going to be much more comfortable,” she said with a laugh while putting the clothes on the counter next to my uniform. “Now let’s get this exam over with so you can go meet with the bigwigs.”

“How's Fox?” I blurted

Without missing a beat she said, “You first, him later. Now lay back so I can get a proper look at all these fun injuries you’ve accumulated.”

Not really having a good reason to argue I did as I was told and lay back on the table to let Dr. Robinson do her exam. She moved around me asking me to move this or that and poking, prodding, or manipulating things so that she could get a good idea of my condition. Always apologizing for causing any pain and you could tell she was very good at her job by the way she moved. 

After a few minutes, she asked me to sit up and said, “I’m going to do one last concussion check so I want you to follow the light again as I move it. Moving the pen light through a series of movements going up, down, left, and right as well as various other things like covering one eye and then the other I did what she asked and after a few minutes, she must have been satisfied as she grunted and put away the penlight and pinched the bridge of her nose before exhaling. 

“Ok, Dani the good news is that you really don’t seem to have a concussion. Everything I said earlier still stands though about the next twenty four hours. You heal faster than anyone I’ve ever seen that doesn’t specifically have a healing ability so I imagine most of this will be gone in a couple of days to a week, however, you have a pretty deep bruise on your hip that will probably take a bit longer, and I imagine your shoulder will too. Your sternum, forearms, and side will be some fun colors so I would stick to long sleeves for a bit to avoid any awkward questions.

I’m going to release you now but you are officially off training for a week and you will need to see me personally before I release you to resume activities. I’ll have a prescription ready for you at the front desk for something stronger than over the counter pain killers for tonight and tomorrow if you need them and after that over-the-counter ibuprofen is your friend as it will help with the inflammation. If you experience any worsening pain you contact me immediately, understand? I should probably send you for imaging but I would bet my pension that they are already getting impatient upstairs. Ok, any questions?” she said with a look that somehow was both comforting and stern at the same time.

“Can I still fly?” immediately jumped out of my mouth and I blushed furiously when all she did for a beat was raise an eyebrow. “Um…can I walk on my leg or do I need a crutch or anything?” I followed up lamely. 

“Dani you can do anything you can tolerate within normal activities as long as you don’t overdo it until you’re healed. Flying wouldn’t be a consideration for most people let alone fall into ‘normal activities’ but I know asking you not to fly is like asking you not to breathe, so just don’t overdo it ok? If it hurts stop,” she said with a wisp of a smile, “Now get dressed.” 

“Yes Doc,” I said and smiled when she brought my stack of clothes over to me from the counter. “Um, Doc. I think I’m going to skip the bra. My shoulder is stiffening up and I’m starting to feel my sternum. Do you have a bag or anything I could use?” I asked.

“That’s probably for the best,” she said and then began rummaging around the cabinets in the medical room finally hitting paydirt with a kind of nylon little drawstring rucksack thing. “This should work for anything you need to carry.”

A few minutes later, and much to my embarrassment, with a little help from the good doctor I was dressed, and I was very happy that I had come to the base super casual in leggings, a shirt, and a hoodie. With my bra safely stowed in my new bag I was ready to leave when I realized I still didn’t know how Fox was. I couldn’t decide if I was worried or pissed but he was still my mentor so I guess worried was winning sixty to forty.

“So…um how’s Fox?” I asked again hoping this time I’d get an answer as I tidied up and folded up the remnants of my training uniform. 

 Dr. Robinson’s eyes hardened a bit at the mention of Fox and for a second I thought she wasn’t going to answer but then she relented “Fox was sent to the main infirmary to get his shoulder looked at. As I said he took a pretty good knock when you threw him. Even with an injured shoulder he still picked you up and brought you straight here though, but personally, I’m still pretty annoyed at him for going at you so hard. He did at least have the decency to be worried about you, and he was refusing to get looked at until he knew you were ok, but I threatened to put him on a medical leave if he didn’t go. I’m sure he’ll be along shortly so we should get going to that meeting. Since I’m one of the bigwigs I have to go to the meeting so I’ll be with you and I’ll try to make sure they don’t overwhelm you. Oh and leave your uniform someone will take care of it. Not sure you’ll be wearing that one again anyway,” she said heading toward the door to the ready area of the training room and the elevator to the main control room. 

Dr. Robinson made sure to match my pace as I limped over to the elevator and once we were in she pressed the button for the control room. It was a quick ride up as we only had to go up a couple of floors but it was enough for my stomach to start developing butterflies.

With a ding we arrived and the doors opened into a large space dominated by large windows that ran almost the width of the room. Set back a little ways from the windows were a row of workstations and displays that operated and monitored the room with a couple of technicians tapping away at whatever they were doing on the screens. In the center of the room was a holo table that currently seemed to be replaying scenes from the exercise. To our left was a staff area that housed restrooms and a small kitchenette and on our right was a large conference room that Dr. Robinson gestured toward in a ‘before you’ gesture. 

I was a little reluctant to leave the main control room area partially because I was nervous but also because I’d only seen the room once before on my orientation tour of the facility and I really wanted to see what everything did. What can I say, I’m a sucker for shiny buttons. 

I limped to the door of the conference room and stopped and paused to glance at Dr. Robinson who nodded at me and softly said, “You got this Dani,” as she walked past me into the room and took a seat at the table inside.

Taking a deep breath I followed her into the room only to find it more occupied than I had been expecting. As conference rooms go it was pretty standard although it was pretty big. I guessed it could hold about twelve people sitting though there were only ten chairs in the room currently, but there was standing space for more people if needed. Ringing the room were slick state of the art displays and the table looked to be made of some kind of dark glass. A star emblem that matched the one on my hoodie was on one wall and on the other was the seal of the US Army. Something tickled the back of my brain about being told this room doubled as secondary operations planning space. 

Sitting at the head of the table was Colonel Morales who was the commanding officer of the base. His callsign was ‘Jupiter’ and he was a veteran officer in his forties of Mexican-American descent. He was slightly above average height and just starting to see middle age spread kick in but his black hair was always military ‘high and tight’ and his bearing screamed military lifer which only helped his reputation as a no-nonsense leader. Generally speaking conversations with the Colonel were unpleasant as he seemed to revel in being abrasive but ultimately operations and personnel at the Michigan City facility were his responsibility. A responsibility he took very seriously.

The Colonel noticed my arrival with a nod and gestured to the empty chair at the foot of the table opposite him. “Have a seat, Miss Walker. I’m glad you could join us. I believe you know almost everyone here and we are just waiting on Chief Brunner to return with Master Seargent Takahara from the infirmary and then we’ll get started.”

I pulled out the chair that was evidently designated for me at the foot of the table and gingerly sat down. I was pretty proud of myself that I only winced a little in the process and shifted around to get comfortable. An aid appeared out of nowhere with a glass of water and a coaster and just as quickly disappeared. Taking a sip of the water I took a moment to look around the room at the assembled guests.

 To the right of Colonel Morales was Lieutenant Colonel Amin, callsign Astrea, who in many ways was the polar opposite of the Colonel. Lieutenant Colonel Amin couldn’t be much taller than five foot four inches and was of Indian-American heritage. Where he was gruff she was outgoing and engaging, and her fast track promotion through the ranks to Lieutenant Colonel at the young age of thirty seemed to rankle old schoolers like Colonel Morales. Rumor has it that the Lieutenant Colonel has a Sigma ability that has something to do with influencing others, but I didn’t really care much about the rumors as I found her super likable and fun to be around as I had spent quite a bit of time with her taking public relations lessons. She gave me a quick smile and a wave.

To the left of the Colonel sat a surprise in the form of Doctor Rokker. Doctor Rokker lead the research team that was the other component of the Star Project and I had known him since I was a kid. He was always kind to me and my family and always was upfront with us when the government started researching my abilities. In his late fifties with a shock of unkempt white hair, he greeted me with a big grin and wave when I caught his eye. Like Doctor Robinson, his presence was comforting but also out of place for a training excersize so I couldn’t help but be on edge.

Speaking of Dr. Robinson she took a seat next to Dr. Rokker and immediately leaned in toward him as they began a conversation like the old friends they were. The seat on the other side of Robinson was empty with the one closest to me on that side of the table occupied by Major Zeit. Tall and skinny with a buzz cut and southern inflection I didn’t know much about the Major since other than he was the operations officer for the base, but the handful of times we interacted he was nothing but charming. Still, his presence was yet another red flag to the fact that something was up. I gave him a queasy smile and a nod which he returned before going back to whatever was on the tablet in front of him. 

This was definitely turning into an interesting day and the fact I that just had the crap kicked out of me less than an hour ago and now I was sitting in a room of big wigs was giving me mental whiplash. I was definitely not feeling like I was keeping pace so when I looked to the right side of the table it was a relief to see Captain Williams, Wolf One, make eye contact and give me a nod. The African-American woman was a little taller than me and built like a track star. Muscular and lithe, Captain Williams was no joke. While Fox was superior in hand-to-hand and up close fighting even he couldn't touch Captain Williams's tactical ability. She just saw things differently and was able to almost always put herself in the right position for the best outcome. I rarely sparred with her but when I did she beat me just as often as Fox did. Captain Willaims and Fox were assigned as my primary trainers and were the two people most responsible for my training so I could understand why they would be here and while I can’t say that I’ve really gotten to know the Captain on much of a personal level, I certainly respect her. In fact I’m not sure she wanted this assignment, but she’s been nothing but professional and thorough in carrying out my training so getting just that little nod of acknowledgment meant a lot to me.

To the Captain’s right was a tall young woman with auburn hair pulled back in a regulation ponytail wearing the standard regulation blue duty uniform that I didn’t recognize. Now granted it was a pretty good size base so having somebody I’ve never interacted with was entirely possible but I would bet money I’d never seen her before. Whoever she was she seemed pretty at ease in the group and even gave me a quick wink and turned away from me to ask Leiutenant Colonel Amin something.

I…what? What is today? The anxiety was starting to really build but fortunately, salvation came in the person I least wanted to see as Chief Brunner came sauntering into the room to announce “I found your lost Fox. He’ll be here in a minute. He has to stop and grab a new shirt from his locker since his shoulder’s all wrapped up,” as he slid into the chair next to Robinson and managed to somehow slouch and yet not be so obvious as to be reprimanded.

Ugh, Brunner. He was easily my least favorite person on base. Chief Warrant Office Nicholas Brunner, Wolf Two, was the textbook definition of an Alpha douche, he was in charge of training me on the different weapons and weapons systems I could run up against as well as helping with my traditional firearms training. He actually knew his stuff when it came to different weapons but he was just such a prick it was hard to give him any credit.

 During our first week of training, he hit on me every time Captain Williams or Fox wasn’t around asking if I’d ever had a ‘real’ man or just those ‘so boys’ as college, and that a hottie like me was wasting their time with training because with my looks I should just be getting rich as an influencer. I really think the insufferable prick thought I would be flattered and that talking to me that way would somehow make me swoon for him, except all it did was convince me to make it my mission to prove him wrong every chance I could. A Texas fried jock next door type standing at six foot, two inches with blond hair and blue eyes and muscles on muscles he was a cheerleader’s wet dream. He didn’t much like my turning him down and has gone out of his way to take shots at me or to remind me what I’m ‘missing’ ever since. I know he has a history with Captain Williams and Fox and a bunch of medals for bravery because he made sure to tell me…repeatedly, but honestly, I don’t see how they put up with him. I’ll have to ask one day.

Taking another sip of water and checking to make sure the bag with my bra was safely down at my feet and studiously not looking at Brunner. Perhaps I have started to daydream about a structural collapse that would save me from having to sit in this room any longer when Fox came through the door. He was wearing his right arm in a sling over a tank top with his duty jacket draped over his shoulders. He paused behind me like he was looking for an open chair when I felt him give my shoulder a whisper of a squeeze before he seated himself between the officer I didn’t know and myself. 

“Thank you for joining us Master Seargent Takahara, I hope your injury is nothing serious. Now that everyone that needs to be here is here let's get this show on the road, shall we?” said Colonel Morales from the head of the room. All the conversations died away instantly and one of the ninja aids closed the conference room door with a soft click before disappearing again.

“As you know we are here today to decide whether Private Military Contractor Walker will be awarded a Special First Responder Certification by the United States Government and all clearances that go with it. Congratulations PMC Walker on finishing your certification test. Now let’s see if you passed,” he said.