Chapter 20: The Wall

Energia: Titans of Verità
Table of Contents (For Catching Up)

Melcroft led them through the hallway, humming quietly to herself, and into the open gymnasium that they had passed earlier. “Before you get an E-Suit of your own,” she said as she walked, “you need to learn how to properly use one. But before you can do that, you need to refine your bodies to the peak of their abilities! If you want to bring out the best from your suit, you’ll need to bring out the best from your body! Starting with…” She stopped in the center of the room, raised her hands into the air, and clapped twice dramatically.

Anna felt a quiet vibration rise through her legs. It quickly grew louder and more violent, rising until her entire body was shaking. Large sections of the floor slid open. Through the open slits rose a series of large, simple structures. The first was a metal wall, standing just tall enough to bask the massive Sal in its shadow. The next was a platform, which came to a stop floating high in the air above them, jutting out from the wall. A thick rope unfurled from the top like a snake, landing on the floor with a thud. A steep, shining metal slide with several towering walls breaking the smooth surface curved downwards back to the floor, pointing towards a thin sheet that dangled precariously over a deep pit.

She could feel her stomach rise with excitement. Finally, all her years of running from angry police officers into oncoming traffic would finally pay off! She was already imagining the shocked looks that would be on everyone’s faces when she cleared it at record time. The image brought a smile to her face.

“Speed and reflexes!” Melcroft finished with a flair of her hands. Her signature smile, wry and evil, spread across her face. “We know that all of you can run like hell, thanks to the first exam! But having stamina isn’t the same thing as having strength or reflexes!”

Melcroft waved at the obstacle course, spinning around the room like a top. “The course is simple! First, you hop over the wall,” she pointed at the lone barrier of metal, “then climb the rope,” her hand flowed over and up the rope, “then you’ll clear the Path of Pain-”

“Come again?” Tommy asked.

“-and make your way down the slide!” Melcroft continued, ignoring his question entirely. She made a spinning gesture as she waved past the twisting ramp. “Careful! Those walls hurt! And if you get hit by even one, you need to restart the whole course!”

“Pfft!” Cara spat, just missing Anna’s boot. She’d have to hit her for that later. “Piece of cake! I used to run down ramps like that for fun when I was a kid!”

“They certainly weren’t as heavily waxed as that one!” Melcroft cackled.

Anna felt a ghostly ache in her back. What’s with these people and wax? She wondered bitterly.

“If you manage to make it down the slide without breaking your spine, then you’ll come across the balancing act!” she pointed at the final obstacle and pantomimed a man walking with two fingers. “I hope you can walk straight because the pit’s a seven-foot drop! Oh, and there are no ladders, so do try not to fall in.”

“H-how do we get out if we do?” Eitan asked, his voice barely hiding a subtle quiver.

“Climb.” Melcroft shrugged. “You kids are smart; you’ll figure it out.”

“Isn’t that irresponsible?” Sal asked, raising his hand, which only made him look even taller. “What if someone gets stuck down there?”

“This isn’t your parent’s house, big guy! If you’ve got a problem, you’ll have to deal with it yourself! But if you get stuck in there for a day or two, we might send someone to get you.” She clapped loudly. “So, who wants to go first?”

Anna raised her hand immediately. The sooner she got this done, the better. Besides, how could she resist the chance to show them who was boss?

“Ah! The indestructible Ironchase!” Melcroft announced like a boxing commentator. “Will she live up to her title? Or will she finally prove to be just as mortal as the rest of us? Let’s find out!” she pointed to a glowing blue line roughly five yards from the starting wall. Massive blue letters spelling ‘START’ faded in and out.

Before she could move, she felt a tap on her shoulder. Turning, she saw Alex standing behind her. “Are you sure that is good idea?” he whispered. “After… um…” he trailed off. His eyes drifted across the course, then her stomach.

Realization finally dawned on her. So that’s why you’ve been avoiding me! Her blood quickly rose to a boil. First you beat me, then you pity me? The sheer nerve of it made her angrier than she ever had been. “Save it, pretty boy!” She growled. “I can handle this just fine! Or are you that scared of watching me beat you?”

“That is not- I mean-” he stammered awkwardly, quickly looking away from her. “Um… kak mne eto vyrazit’… I am worried for you.”

Anna felt as though a vein in her neck would burst. It was all she had not to break his nose. “The hell did you say to me?!” She took a step towards him and-

“Hey, relax!” Tommy cut in, placing himself between them. “Come on Alex, there’s no reason to worry! This chick’s indestructible! The title says it all! Right, Indestructible Ironchase?” he turned to her. His smile seemed idiotic. But his eyes burned with a quiet plea. Just let it go, they seemed to beg.

Simmering, Anna stood still for a moment and glared at Alex. Then, with an agitated growl, she left the other recruits and took a running stance at the blue starting line. The others all stared as she went, wide-eyed. All except for Eitan, who just sighed and went back to the course and started muttering to himself again.

As she set her foot down, the blue faded into red, then into yellow. As it shifted into green, Melcroft let out an ear-splitting “GO!”

Anna broke into a mad dash, closing the gap between her and the wall in an instant. Then, using her momentum to her advantage, put her weight on the balls of her feet and, with a powerful push, leaped into the air. She grasped the upper lip of the wall with both hands and, once her grip was firm, quickly pulled herself up. A confident smile crossed her lips. Cara was right; this was going to be a piece of-

The surface of the wall shimmered like a body of water. The metal seemed to twist, pulling itself into a small, round shape, which protruded from the smooth surface like a welt. Before she could think, the welt flew forward, pulling the wall with it like clay, and slammed into her stomach. The blow knocked the wind out of her, striking with force like a wild semi-truck. She felt her grip slip as her weight flew back. Her body crashed onto the ground with a painful thud, coming to a stop at the starting line.

“Ooh!” Melcroft took a sharp breath, still smiling. “Did I forget to mention the walls are made of automated defense nanomachines? Probably should have brought that up…”

“Nanomachines?” Eitan cried, staring at the wall with shining eyes. “I thought that was still experimental tech! How do you-”

“Order is the biggest defense program humanity has ever put together.” She explained nonchalantly. “Of course, we get all the fun toys before anyone else! It’s only when they prove to have limited or no use to us that we hand them down to the general public! As long as they’re not problematic, of course!”

Great. Anna thought, clutching her stomach and resisting the urge to vomit. At least they’re going to beat me bloody with the shiny toys!

“You okay, Ironchase?” Melcroft cried out to her. “If you want, we could send one of the others out to give it a go! Why not take a break?”

Anna bit down a retort. She stumbled back to her feet and took a deep, painful breath. The pain in her chest hadn’t even started to fade when she charged again. No time to wait. So long as her ribs weren’t broken, she’d make do.

While her second leap didn’t have the same momentum the first did, she still managed to leap high enough to grasp the top of the wall. There was barely enough time to properly secure her grip before she had to move again. She scrambled to pull herself up as quickly as possible, watching as best she could for another shift in the nanomachines.

It didn’t take long for her to find one. The wall rippled again, shifting into a small black form, this time aiming at her right shoulder. Seized by panic, Anna threw herself to one side, shifting her weight and giving up one hand of grip to avoid another bullet-like blow. She had little time to recover, as another attack quickly started to take shape, this one aimed at her groin. While she did manage to dodge that one, she did not manage to dodge the blow aimed directly at her chest, which had formed a mere instant after she dodged the second. Just as she realized what happened, she was back where she started, gasping for agonizing breaths.

She quickly lost track of time as she charged the wall over and over again. There was a distinct feeling of stagnation as she repeatedly leaped up, dodged one or two attacks, then got knocked back to square one. Anger rose higher and higher in her chest with each attempt, driving her to charge the obstacle faster and more recklessly with each attempt. Her failures quickly began to add up as the time between them shortened.

“It’s been half an hour, Ironchase!” Melcroft shouted. “You can stop now! Let someone else give it a go!”

“Listening to her may not be a bad idea!” Sal called out.

“Uh, yeah!” Tommy chipped in. “Pretty sure healing cells are too expensive to be used on bruises! And at the rate you’re going, you’d need to fill the bath!”

“Several times over!” Cara added with a nervous laugh.

Another blow knocked Anna flat onto her back. She didn’t bother responding to any of their cries. Any response was quickly erased by the intense pounding in her temples. The wall was the only clear thought left. With a wild scream, she bore down on the wall once again.

This time, she didn’t even get the chance to jump. The whole wall surged forward, forming a massive black fist. It slammed into her entire body at once, sending her flying across the training chamber. When she finally came to a stop, she had bounced and slid to the far of the room. She couldn’t tell if she had broken anything through the paralyzing pain. It was all she had just to whimper.

“Eh, don’t worry about it too much!” Melcroft laughed. “Most people don’t get past the rope. But there are a few who can’t get past the wall! So, you technically aren’t the worst to ever try it!”

Anna heard Sal’s voice. “Ma’am,” it said calmly. “Perhaps now is not the time for jokes.”

“Just tryin to lift the mood. Speaking of lifting, can someone get her back on her feet?”

“Yeah…” Eitan breathed between his teeth, his voice at Anna’s side. “I don’t think that’s happening.”

Despite Anna’s best efforts, it was abundantly clear that he was right. It took all she had just to sit up, and it was all she could do to stay where she was. Her vision was hazy and red. Only the wall still seemed to be clear before her. She had the sudden urge to punch it back, but a sudden and powerful dizziness stole that satisfaction away from her. An intense wave of nausea nearly pushed her over the edge.

A large, firm hand closed around her arm. “You could use a break.” Sal’s voice said in her ear. “Oi, Russian man! Give us a hand! Mr. Avidan, could you get her legs?”

“I’m on it,” Eitan said nearby. “Hey Alex! Get her other arm, will you?”

“Oh!” Alex stuttered. “Uh… yes!” he rushed over, helping Anna up by her free arm. “But where do we put her?”

“Where d’ya think, dummies?” Cara laughed. “Here, give her to me. You two idiots can’t be trusted to handle a lady.”

“’Scuse me?” Sal huffed. “I’ll have you know I was quite popular with the-”

“Less talking, more moving!” Melcroft cried between cupped hands. “Get her out of here, then someone else take a stab at it!”

“No…” Anna groaned quietly. She tried to push their hands away as they started lifting her up, but she couldn’t muster the strength. “I can still-” a violent fit of coughing forever murdered the rest of the sentence.

“Still cough blood all over my clothes?” Cara offered, hoisting her onto her back with some help from the boy’s. “Don’t worry sweetie, I’m sure you can. But please don’t. God dammit you’re heavy! What do you eat, girl?”

Anna bit her lower lip. Her stomach twisted with hot rage. She tried to speak, to demand that she put her down. But no words came to her lips. Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment as Cara carried her through the hall and into the girl’s dorms. After some searching, she found Anna’s bed.

“Hey look!” she gasped as she set Anna’s body down like a sack of bricks. “We’re practically neighbors! My bunk’s right there!” she pointed to the far corner of the room, a look of satisfied glee on her face. “Oh, we’re gonna have fun!

Anna didn’t respond. She sat as still as stone on her bed, clenching the sheets tightly between her fingers. Tears welled up in her eyes, but she fought them back. Her pride was already in shambles; she would not cry.

“Alright, you do… whatever it is you do when you take a nap.” Cara told her, making an unsubtle movement towards the door. “And don’t you worry! I’ll be sure to regale you with tales about how I overcame that wall, cleared the course, and became the new queen of Order!” she waved with her fingers. “Bye-bye, Annie!” Then she was gone, chuckling to herself as she vanished.

I’ll kill her! Anna thought bitterly. I’ll smash that god damn wall and beat her skull in with it! Her body shook violently. Part of her wanted to crawl beneath them and die. Another wanted to disappear entirely. All of her wanted to tear the wall down and scatter it to the wind.

She couldn’t sleep. Instead, she rolled over, took a shaky breath, and started planning her revenge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: