Macavee had taken his class to a large, open-air training field just past Paddington Court. The field contained large dirt slopes which rose up and down at irregular intervals--some spaced close together, some wide. Twenty foot tall sentry towers stood at certain points between the slopes, each one armed with taser cannons. Since no military weapon had a "stun" setting, taser cannons were designed exclusively for training scenarios such as this.
"Listen very carefully, Cadets," Macavee said, striding up and down the line of students as he spoke. "Those taser cannons are set to pivot and fire at any moving object on that slalom. Your body armor will protect you from being permanently harmed, but trust me, your teeth are going to rattle something fierce as you jump around like a milkshake being blended, and fall to the ground. There are also hidden launchers at certain spots, which will alternately fire plasma grenades and concussion charges. The concussion charges are designed to strike the ground around you, simulating a small explosion and mainly toss up dirt to obscure your vision. The plasma grenades are designed to discombobulate your synaptic pathways, rendering you one hundred percent useless for ten minutes. Your objective is to race to the very end, trying to not get hit, while also taking out as many sentry towers as you can. Your Blastrifles won't damage the sentry guns, but striking one will render it inactive for fifteen seconds. As you reach the end of the course, a meter at the far end will register who comes in, from first to last. So that you don't all get picked off at once, I will be sending you out at three second intervals, from the left of this group to the right."
Macavee then moved to the cadet farthest left of him, at the end of the line. "Check your armor, ready your blaster." The cadet did as he was told, an apprehensive look on his face as he made sure all his body plating was in place and his safety on his Blastrifle was set to "off".
Macavee nodded curtly. "On my mark--GO!"
All watched as the cadet raced off. The instant he set foot on the first leg of the course, the first sentry gun swiveled around, firing taser bolts. The cadet jumped forward, barely managing to dodge it, and fell chest-first on the ground. He almost lost his grip on his Blastrifle, but managed to snatch onto its butt, dragging it up with him as he jumped to his feet and set off once more. Some of the cadets left behind jumped as, with a sudden, sharp whistle of rushing air, a concussion charge hit the ground to his right. A large cloud of dirt and soot blasted upward, and for a moment they lost sight of him as he ran straight into the earthy mist.
He reappeared a few seconds later on the other side, and the cadets all cheered. The cadet disappeared over a small rise, and with the sound of ionizing air, several laser bolts appeared from behind the rise, each one just missing the next sentry tower. The cadet appeared once more, giving up on firing...content instead to just run for his life.
"Armor check, blaster check--GO!" Macavee shouted, and the next startled cadet took off. She wasted no time, and just as her foot touched the first leg, she fired at the primary sentry, scoring a direct hit. With a whine, the gun turret lowered, making no movement to aim at her further. The cadets cheered her on, shouting her name happily.
"Armor check, blaster check--GO!"
And off went Anthony Chang, now the most famous student at the school. The same day Theo discovered who Anthony was, he naturally blabbed about it to half the campus, and those students suddenly in the know spread the word to the other half. Travis was certain that Theo must have been brokenhearted when no active backlash against Anthony was forthcoming from any other student. There were fervent whispers, stares and some pointing, of course--Anthony's grandfather was infamous, and now that Travis knew who Anthony was, he finally realized that the young man was almost the spitting image of Jing Tsao. But the majority of students were very open-minded, and there was no outward sense of ostracism that Travis could see, or which Chang had mentioned, at least. He was simply one more student, like Travis or Drake, who had a well-known relative.
And now Anthony Chang moved swiftly across the obstacle course, doing his best to dodge concussion charge explosions, plasma grenades and tasers while firing at the sentry towers. Travis was impressed; Chang was doing a damn good job of picking off the sentries, and was almost closing in on the previous cadet. Travis glanced at Theo, who stared at Chang neutrally. If he was also impressed by their roommate's performance, he refused to show it.
Pietro was next, and he took off like a shot. The primary sentry tower, which had been disarmed by the cadet before Chang, probably had about five or six seconds left in its deactivation cycle before it would spring to life once more, and Pietro was determined to make the most of it. He ran in a somewhat zigzag pattern, trying to outsmart the launchers' sensor array, and fired at the active sentries as he went. This course didn't seem to be as hard as Macavee made it out to be, and Travis felt his confidence rising.
Theo was next. He raced away from the group as fast as he could, and even as the primary sentry activated, the turret rising to seek him out, he fired and scored a direct hit, deactivating it once more. Travis couldn't help it--he cheered right along with the rest of the cadets as Theo made his way after the others.
A shout from Macavee, and it was Travis' turn. He checked his breast plate, arm gauntlets, knee shields and boots. His Blastrifle's safety was clicked to "off", and he raced across the field. He passed the first sentry, which was still inactive from Theo's blast. He glanced to his left, and saw the taser cannon charging, firing--and he jumped forward just in time to avoid being shocked to near-unconsciousness. Luckily, he managed to hold onto his Blastrifle, and scrambled to his feet. It wasn't until that moment, caught up as he had been in the excitement of watching his fellow cadets perform on the faux battlefield, that he realized how hard it was to hear anything, to pick out specific sounds. With the launchers firing, the sentries attempting to pick off the cadets, and the concussion charges going off, it was almost impossible to figure out which sounds were coming from where, or to focus on anything but the road ahead. He suddenly realized the entire purpose of the exercise: not only to practice avoiding getting hit or to pick off targets, but to learn to focus, to discern which sounds might be the most important, because on a deafening battlefield, the sense of hearing might at any moment be more important than sight itself. He nodded assuredly to himself and moved forward, but a concussion charge landed right in front of him, blowing up a column of dirt and smoke!
He stumbled, falling onto his back. He jumped to his feet, and heard the charging hum of the primary sentry activating again...for an instant, as the sentry pivoted in his direction, he froze--!
Travis stood there, rooted in place, unsure what was happening. The sentry gun was pointed directly at him, its muzzle had him dead to rights, but it didn't fire. He blinked, and in an instant, Macavee's words came back to him:
Those taser cannons are set to pivot and fire at any moving object on that slalom.
Travis tried not to sweat; the dirt had parched his lips, but he refused to lick them. He remained frozen dead in place, staring at the sentry, and it seemed for all the world as if the muzzle was staring back at him, trying to win the silent contest of wills between them. Travis' eyes slid sideways. He could see the first cadet in the distance, about six inclines away, shuddering on the ground where he had fallen from a taser hit. The female who had followed him was nowhere to be seen, nor were any of the others that had come after her. Travis could hear the cadets behind him calling out his name, and he knew that another cadet would be coming up behind him soon. He had to do something, he couldn't remain in place all day-!
With a sharp intake of air, Travis raised his gun and leaped to the left, back down the incline, firing as he did so. The cannon's smartware didn't expect that action, and pivoted just a second too late. His laser struck it, and just as the device turned to fire at him, it shut down with a whine. A self-satisfied smile spread across his face as he heard the cheers of his classmates behind him. Not wanting to get caught up too much in the moment, he forced the smile off his face and jumped to his feet, running back up the incline.
He raced away from the cheering crowd, up and over the incline, firing at the next sentry tower as he crested the hill. It deactivated and he pressed forward, occasionally swinging his head left and right, thinking that maybe he might be able to spot Macavee's hidden launchers; hoping that he could possibly run faster than the machines' sensors could target him. He passed Pietro, who was lying on the ground, his eyes staring up uncomprehendingly as his body shuddered from the effects of a fresh plasma grenade hit. Travis tried not to think about him as he moved onward.
He came to the top of the third hill, and froze. There were three more sentries ahead, and now he could see the female cadet at the far end of the course, sitting on the ground and recovering from the race. Travis stood still, surveying the terrain before moving forward, trying to pick out laser fire from explosion from concussion blast.
A concussion blast went off a short ways in front of him, and he squinted through the dirt shower, observing another figure standing still. It was Theo, holding position at the top of the next hill. His Blastrifle was raised, but he wasn't aiming at any of the sentries. He was standing perfectly still, as was Travis, and it seemed as if he was waiting for something...
Anthony Chang crested the next small rise, heading upwards to higher ground.
In a split second, Travis realized what was going to happen: In all the confusion, and out of sight of the drill sergeant and cadets, Theo was going to shoot Chang in the back. Theo could then move, letting the nearest sentry target and hit him; he could claim later that in the confusion, he was struck and his gun misfired, shooting Chang. No one could contest it, because there would be no witnesses.
Theo Booker was going to kill Anthony Chang.
Travis had to do something--there was only a moment or so to act. But what could he do? If he moved, the sentries would target him, and they might actually hit him before he could stop Theo. But even if they didn't, what could he do? It was too loud for him to shout out, either to distract Theo or to warn Chang or alert Macavee. And the only other option would be to shoot Theo...but then what? If he did, Travis would face separation at least, prison at most. But if he didn't, and Macavee found out that Travis did nothing, he would be facing the same bleak future.
He had to think, but there was no time. Chang was moving closer into the position Theo wanted, and the hopelessly angry young man's finger was tightening on the trigger.
"Travis! Travis, MOVE!"
Travis spun around, startled to see Danielle cresting the hill just behind him. She obviously didn't expect to see him here either, thinking he must have already moved on. Without warning, a blue-white ball of energy struck Danielle, and her eyes popped wide as the plasma grenade hit her dead on. She fell to the ground, babbling incoherently, drool running out of the side of her mouth. It suddenly came to Travis that he had moved; his heart leapt into his throat, he spun around--and was blown off his feet by a concussion charge that went off only an inch or so away from him.
He tumbled forward down the small rise, rolling on his side a few feet, until he landed at the foot of the hill. He looked up, saw Theo about to fire, and shot to his feet, taking swift aim.
Travis fired once, grazing Theo on the leg-but a beam of charged coherent light grazing someone is bound to take every last bit of attention away from anything else that person is doing. Theo cried out, fell onto his back and clutched his leg in agony, his Blastrifle unfired.
And after that, Travis knew nothing else, as he suddenly felt the hair all over his body stand on end, and a bright white light seemed to come from behind his very eyes as the taser cannon's bolt struck him. His teeth ground together, he tried to speak but couldn't, then fell on his back, convulsing. And he was actually thankful as his eyes closed and the deafening sounds of the obstacle course faded away, smothered in a veil of darkness.
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