"Carson, Carson wake up!" A gruff voice spoke above my head. I
opened my eyes to see an enormous head of shaggy hair gazing down
on me, the door to my sleeper pod wide open.
"Bill?" I asked as I rubbed the substantial amount of sleep from
my eyes. How long had I been asleep?
"Correct! Cook says you couldn't knife fight your way out of a
paper bag. It's time you learned to gut some Russians." Great, I
Bill had set up numerous dummies inside of the indoor training
facility. Now, this facility isn't the size of your highschool
gym. No, this was a massive underground arena, big enough to host
practice fights between squads of soldiers with enough seating to
allow the entire platoon to watch. Of course, all the training
was done with guns that fired plastic pellets, yet had the sound,
feel and recoil of a real gun. There was a Plexiglas shield for
the audience. The arena was abandoned today, except for Bill
Carson and their dummies. The dummies wore old pieces of armor
scavenged off fallen enemies. It was similar to the outer layer
of armor I wore only designed chunkier and heaver, however made
of the same materials. The Russian soldiers were not equipped
with the two extra layers under the plating, meaning they could
be more easily killed.
"Now," began Bill, "The first step is to find a chink in the
armor, any sort of opening you can find and exploit. Example."
Bill approached the nearest dummy and immediately went to work.
Every time he stabbed, he shook and twisted with the knife
quickly but briefly, causing deep messy wounds. Bill had the
dummy reduced to scraps of fabric and stuffing in a matter of
seconds. "Now," he said through heavy breaths, "your turn." I
walked towards the next dummy and drew my knife. The first
opening I noticed was a joint in the armpit. I feinted towards
the neck, not knowing why I was trying to fake out a dummy, and
shifted directions mid swing, thrusting the knife upwards into
the joint of the armor. I jostled the blade around inside the
burlap sack of stuffing which was my foe for today before pulling
it free and stabbing again at the neck. I made a clean cut across
and withdrew my blade, turning towards Bill. I shot him a classic
'how do you like me now?' look.
"Not bad," Bill said, "but you're not getting creative. These
guys are trained to gut you like a pig." I winced. "You need to
hit the unexpected places, move in one fluid motion, each attack
building off of the last." As he said this, he threw his arm
back, his elbow colliding with a dummy's face, his knife with its
forearm and pulled the blade upwards, making a massive gash up
the whole arm. Stuffing littered the floor. "That limb is now
immobilized," he said as he launched his next attack. He grabbed
the dummy by a joint in its breastplate, bringing his foot down
on its knee, breaking its leg. "Now that he's messed up, we can
go in for the kill," Bill said. He slammed the hilt of the dagger
into the temple of the dummy so hard its helmet cracked. He then
spun the blade around and utilized this new weak point by driving
the knife straight through the ruined helmet and into the dummy's
head. It took a few tugs to remove the knife.
"See, the trick is that they'll be expecting an attack to the
throat or head, being the only true places where a stab can be
fatal in this heavy of armor. The key thing is to immobilize
their limbs first and make sure they can't counter your attack,
because believe me, they're trained to counter effectively." The
muscles in his neck tensed around the scar he bore from when his
throat was slit halfway. "Let's try it again."
By the end of the day, every dummy in the arena laid a heap of
stuffing and burlap scraps strewn about piles of armor. My arms
were on fire from all the practice, however I really felt as if I
had made some progress. I was just as quick with a knife as Bill
was on the dummies now, finding that with each practice it became
easier and easier.
"Alright, not bad!" Bill gave me a big, toothy grin. Bill was
like a big grizzly bear, and seeing him smile was nearly as
strange as seeing him disembowel a room of dummies. "Now, draw
you knife. I have one last test for you."
I drew my knife. It was the same blade that Cook had given me.
The thing was pretty wicked with its pointed edge, one razor
sharp side for slicing, the other jagged for hacking and sawing.
It was made of a strange black metal I didn't recognize, however
the thing stayed super sharp. The cutting edges hadn't even lost
their color from wear and usage. It seemed the knife wasn't
simply painted black, it was made of black metal. Why hadn't I
noticed how cool this thing was before? I though. Why hadn't I
even examined it at all?
Bill took a step forward and paused, looking me up and down, his
own knife at the ready.
"What's the test, Bill?" I asked. Bill gave me a warm smile.
"Fight for your life." At that, Bill kicked a shower of dirt into
my face, sending me stumbling backwards. Bill yelled and charged,
barely giving me time to react. He stabbed downward violently and
quickly, straight towards my chest, however I caught the blow on
one of the notches of my knife. I worked my wrist under Bill's
and threw his arm off.
"Whoa!" I cried. "Bill, we have no armor, this is NOT a good
idea!" Bill swung at me again and I parried his attack only
"Your enemies won't hesitate just because you have no armor! They
will look for your weakness and exploit it. No mercy!" Bill
pressed me, our knives like swords slashing and clanging off of
each other, each attack coming closer and closer to my undefended
neck and torso. Bill surged forward, unleashing a vicious assault
upon me, catching me with a minor slice every so often and
landing a few punches on my face. Did I mention that hurts?
Alright, I thought, I've just got to think. Clear my mind,
exploit his weakness. I ducked a high slash and found myself
below Bill's downward plunging knife. I rolled to the side, the
blade catching the dirt where my head had been, and I took this
opportunity. I sprang up from my roll, now behind Bill, and
grabbed a handful of shaggy brown hair. I slammed the hilt of my
knife into Bill's back and kicked out the back of his knees. I
went to put the blade to Bill's throat, forcing his surrender,
when Bill countered. He reached behind him and grabbed me by the
hips, throwing me overhead into the ground.
"Uhhh," I moaned, stunned on the floor from this sudden show of
brute strength. I tried to get up, but quickly lost my balance
and toppled over on the floor again. Bill pressed his boot into
my face and muttered something in Russian. Then I realized Bill's
weakness. He fought with rage, hardly controlling it. It could
help him when he was pressed, however in his offense Bill's rage
would blind his judgment. I seized the revelation and did the
first thing that came to mind: I punched Bill in quite an
"Ooof!" Bill lost all his air faster than a popped balloon and I
rolled out from under his boot as the brute crumpled under his
own weight. I got to my feet. I cleared my thoughts and
considered my opponent. Bill was a formidable fighter, much
larger than me and clearly stronger. I knew I had to force Bill's
attack and catch him off his guard, as I had done before, however
this time I had to take him down quickly and efficiently. Bill
charged and I held my ground. At the last second, Bill lowered
down to tackle me, but instincts took over and I went into
overdrive. I leaped into the air and wrapped my left arm around
Bill's neck, while at the same time driving my knees into his
back. Bill let out a groan and toppled to the ground, but I
wasn't done yet. Bill went to counter, rolling over underneath of
me and taking a quick stab at me, but I anticipated the counter.
I caught Bill's strike wrist-to-wrist and drove my free arm into
Bill's elbow with a sickening crunch. Bill screamed in pain and I
slammed my head into Bill's. Bill sagged back down and I was left
straddling over him with my knife to Bill's throat. The fight had
been won when a slow clap came from Cook, standing at the arena's
"So the pretty boy can fight," he said, obviously not very
impressed. Cook strode forward and I climbed off of Bill, who was
still slightly disoriented.
"Alright, seriously, what just happened?" I asked. "Why did Bill
"It was a trai-" Bill tried to reply, but broke into a coughing
fit. When it died down, he continued. "It was a training
exercise, Carson. Cook wanted me to test you in real combat. You
did well, better than either of us expected. Now would you help
me up?" I took Bill's hand and gingerly brought him to his feet.
Bill said his thanks and leaned heavily on my shoulder, still off
his balance from the fight. I had so many questions, yet no words
to put my thoughts to. I wanted to scream. I knew Bill had been
trying to help me but I was fed up with Cook deceiving me.
"Cook," I spoke, my voice quivering with suppressed rage. "Could
I talk to you in private for a bit?" Cook gave me a crooked
"Sure thing, pretty boy. But let's drag the mammoth to the
In case you've never had a two hundred something pound man use
you as a crutch, my advice is this: Don't. The short walk seemed
to take hours with Bill Leaning on me for all his support. We
finally checked him in to have his arm mended and his back
checked. The medical care would probably have him fixed up soon,
as the injuries were mostly minor. Cook and I then headed outside
for our little chat. We went around the back of the infirmary to
a medical supply storage tent and headed inside.
"So what's on your m-" He was cut short when I slugged him in the
face. "Alright," he panted as he got up, his anger building up.
"I'll give you that one, and that was a good punch. You normally
hit like a s-" He was cut short again by another punch to the
face. He toppled backwards, knocking over medicine bottles and
unused syringes. "ENOUGH." His anger had almost boiled over.
Blood trickled from his lip "Now tell me, what do you want?" I
didn't know where to start, so I went with the first thing that
came to mind.
"You never let them promote you because you're scared of getting
caught, aren't you?" The rage was boiling out of my veins. I was
about to explode like Carson-colored fireworks. "You were my
hero, I looked up to you man! And now I find out you're nothing
but a drugged up lunatic who'd rather slit my throat than accept
his problems?" Cook glared into my eyes. They say when you're
messing with somebody dangerous that you're playing with fire. I
may as well have been juggling nuclear warheads, and I was just
fine with that. It felt great to let my anger explode like that,
and before I could stop myself I let a bomb drop.
"And who is Calder?" The question hung in the air. The air inside
the tent seemed supercharged, as if at any moment it would erupt
and vaporize everything inside. Cook's expression didn't falter.
His face was pure malice. His eyes could have panicked fear
itself. I wished I could have bit my tongue. Cook simply looked
It started with his eyes. They began to glow that same pale blue
I had seen in my dream, then it spread to his skin. He was
literally glowing. The whole tent was illuminated by his pale
"You know nothing." His voice melted my nerve and snapped my
composure. It was flat yet menacing, like a cobra daring me to
prod it once more before it strikes. The glow intensified and he
took a step closer. Before I knew what was happening, his hand
shot out and touched my forehead.
What I saw would stay with me a lifetime. The world was ablaze,
fire consuming everything that once lived, men in business suits
were literally tearing each other apart, nothing but hatred and
the desire to kill reigning in their minds. Sky scrapers blazed
and crumbled, mushroom clouds sprouting up everywhere. The sea
swallowed the land, the water washing red with blood. I somehow
understood. It was the next apocalypse, the final destruction of
mankind. The world was ashen and torn apart, the magma in the
earth finally swallowing the surface and leaving the world a
clean black slate of cooled magma, ready to start again. All that
was preserved were a few small places in the world which weren't
swallowed by the magma. My vision returned to the present and I
crumpled to my knees, feeling nauseous and weaker than I ever had
before. I looked at my own hands to make sure they were still
there, and that I wasn't in a business suit. I still had both
hands and I was business suit free.
"So the vision didn't tear your mind from your body," Cook said
in a cool level tone. The glow on his skin had subsided and beads
of sweat formed on his forehead. "Perhaps you could have been
convinced. A pity your death is both imminent and necessary."
With that he strode out of the tent, leaving me clammy and shaken
on the floor of the medical supply tent, grasping for
consciousness but coming up short.
I came to some hours later. I saw the sun through the small
window in the medical tent, sunken low in the sky, casting a
blood red tint over slick icy slopes. Clouds obscured what would
have been a beautiful sky, a slight breeze emphasizing winter's
embrace. I broke into a coughing fit, feeling like my lungs had
been collapsed on themselves and were slowly inflating again. I
muttered Cook's name and slowly got to my feet, feeling the
energy returning to my body, coursing through my veins. Thank god
for the chip, I thought, knowing such a recovery would have taken
me much longer in my natural state. My mind began to race as the
reality of what just happened began to set in. There was
something up with Cook, that much was obvious. There still
remained, however, the question of what exactly happened before I
blacked out. What exactly had he shown me? Guys in business
suits, fire, chaos, I couldn't remember much more. It hurt my
head to think about it. I resolved to continue with my day as