“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 thought.
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 barely.
“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 uncomfortable place.
“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 entrance.
“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 attack me?”
“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 smile.
“Sure thing, pretty boy. But let’s drag the mammoth to the infirmary first.”
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 at me.
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
“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 usual.
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