~~Sleep does not come easy, though it never has. Always images of the War fill my mind. Blood soaked the ground and the stink of death filled the air. No matter how many times one washed his hands they smelt of blood. Only two years after the end of the War, people now forget the pain and the suffering that were associated with the War. It is a thing of the past, ‘the first War in over a hundred years’, it was naught but happenstance. They do not realize that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.
Morning came far too soon but I found myself awake even before the sun. I moved into the kitchen and find myself enjoying the simple task of making breakfast from the well-stocked refrigerator. I can hear her door open and I look up to smile at her. “Good morning. I made you breakfast.” She laughs and smiles at me. “What? Have you never seen a young man cook before?”
“No, I have simply never seen him enjoy the task.”
“After you are finished I must make a request of you.”
“I need you to go back to camp and get the other two from your new troop. Tell Pierce to come along if he wants.”
“Like I could stop him.” We laugh together and sit down to our meal. Not to brag or anything, but I think the food is pretty good, and she doesn’t seem to have any complaints. We talk amiably about nothing important, whenever she asks personal questions I deflect the question or ignore the question. I ask her training, and her experience in the army. Although she is only a lower ranking officer she must have some talent. If she is good enough for Pierce to recognize her she must be good enough to have risen past the rank of 1st lieutenant. It makes no sense for her to not have been promoted. After she is done washing the plates she turns towards the door, me still sitting at the counter pondering her odd predicament. “Umm, there seems to be someone here for you.” I turn around, pulling myself out of my stupor.
“My apologies, come on in.” I smile as an old man walks into the room.
He looks around the room carefully. “I was told that a doctor was needed at this address.”
“Yes, I am your patient.” I walk towards the couch and begin to pull off my shirt, looking at the dozens of scars that cover my body. I hear the door close and look up. The old man sets his bag down and begins to examine my open wounds.
“I am glad that you called me, these wounds could quickly become infected if left untreated.” He begins to sew up the wounds, his hands move quickly and skillfully. Within moments the three gashes on my stomach have been sewn up.
“Thank you, kind sir.” I dig around in my bag, searching for money to pay him with.
“I have already been paid. But now, you must listen to my instructions. Do not do anything that might pull out your stiches. Those wounds are deep, they can be easily torn and reopened.” I am hardly listening to him as he speaks, I have heard the same instructions hundreds of times before. I pull my boots on as he walks out the door. I rush out the door, nearly running into Jo and a small group of people. I can’t help but laugh, I suppose my reflexes have gotten worse without practice. “Sorry.” My apology is dwarfed by my laughter. I straighten up, still shaking from laughter.
Jo and the two other soldiers are staring at me as though I have lost my mind. Pierce on the other hand is glaring at me, his lips beginning to curve up into a smile. His eyes are filled with mirth. I attempt to focus. The first of the two new soldiers is a young man. He is approximately my height, his light brown hair is cut short. His eyes are calm and filled with unspoken laughter. I put out my hand, “Chris Phantom.”
He takes my hand in his with a firm handshake. “Thomas Andrews.”
We bow to each other and I turn to the young woman standing beside him. “Sydney Forest.” The first thing I notice about her are her striking green eyes. They are eyes that have seen horrors, but feel anger rather than sadness. She is the same height as me, and her long red hair falls over strong shoulders. Though I bow she does not bow back, only looks down upon me with scorn in her eyes.
“It is a pleasure to meet all of you, but now we must address a grievous matter. Before we can move further in your test I must inform you that from the moment the examination begins you lose any rank, social or military. If you value your rank leave now, for I can do nothing with you.” I wait a moment, allowing for them to understand the consequences of what I have said. They stare at me blankly and I breathe a sigh of relief. “Good, now, as of this moment you are not to return to the military encampment. You will be staying here until you have been tested, any objections?”
“You can’t do that. You can’t strip us of our rank and then take our home away from us as well.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, I can, and I will. You see, I’m the one that makes the rules here. Sure, he chose you, he thinks you’re strong enough. Now it’s my job to make sure you can live through hell.” I can feel their glares and I can’t help but laugh, a harsh stiff laugh. “If you think this is unfair, then prove to me that you can make it through hell, prove that you are strong enough to live. That what you’re fighting for is truly worth dying for. Until you can prove it to me, you are nothing.” I turn away from them and pull a knife from my sleeve. When I turn back around Pierce has already stepped back, knowing my next move. I smile at him briefly before rushing at Jo.
She doesn’t hesitate to take up a defensive position, her body stiffening, and her eyes becoming dark, alert. She moves out of the way of my first attack and comes back holding a knife. She aims for my back, missing as I turn around to face her. I can feel the smile forming on my lips as I kick at her knife hand. I nick it and the knife falls from her hand. I get behind her then, my knife sliding smoothly against her throat. She struggles in my grasp as I look threateningly at the other two in turn. Thomas is fuming, he pulls his gun and aims it at me. I can’t help but laugh. I must admit that guns have never frightened me. I push Jo away from me slightly and his eyes follow her, in that brief moment I twist his arm behind his back, forcing the gun out of his hand. I force them both to the ground, keeping them both pinned under my weight. Sydney smiles at me, her eyes lighting up with the smell of a fight. She attacks, making her body as small a target as possible, yet allowing for as much strength as possible. Her punch lands, breaking my lip. I land, my feet feeling unsteady. I lick the blood and steady myself, smiling at her I can feel another part of me stirring. She attacks once again, putting her shoulder between us, preparing to punch at my face, I move sideways only slightly and smile again. “Sorry, but you forgot something rather important. I have a knife.” She looks down at the knife I have pointed at her stomach.
I study them each in turn as they catch their breath from our brief skirmish. “Your movements are fine, but you all lack the ability to focus on multiple things at once. As Thomas was so quick to show, you will not always have the same weapons as your opponent.” I pause for a moment, noticing Thomas’ discarded gun. “How accurate are you?” I pick up the gun and hand it to him. Rather than responding he points the gun and shoots a small mouse that had ventured into the alley. As more mice are frightened out of hiding the women each follow his lead. “Not bad, you’re all relatively good shots.” I turn to Pierce and he throws a heavy backpack to me. I pull out a ball about the size of my palm and hold it up for them to see, throwing the pack back to Pierce. “You’re going to shoot at this while Pierce controls which direction it goes. Meanwhile you are going to fight me.”
The looks of astonishment on their faces make me laugh. “You expect us to shoot at a moving target while fighting you? What if we miss and shoot you?”
“Don’t worry, I trust in my ability to dodge a bullet. This is a test to see whether you can focus on more than one thing at once.” Before they can ask any more questions or feel any more terror I attack. Thomas first. He parallels my movements, avoiding my attacks but still attempting to train his gun on the target behind me. He shoots and I can feel the burning in my arm. At the same moment he manages to pin my arm behind my back. I smile and twist in his grasp, forcing him to release him. I then turn to Sydney and take up the same attack. She follows my movements far better than Thomas had, moving faster than me in order to get around me. I slow down, using her speed to my advantage. She shoots, hitting the target but I manage to get around her, holding my own gun to her head. “You forgot something.” I release her and turn towards Jo. Before I can attack her she is headed at me. Unlike the other two she does not immediately turn her attention to the ball, but focuses on me. She manages to put me into a compromising position for a moment before shooting. More pain, but I ignore it and push her off of me, using my weight as an advantage to keep her on the ground.
“I think it’s time for a break. Lunch perhaps?” I can see the desire in Pierce’s eyes as he asks.
“Not yet.” I release Jo and turn back to my three trainees. “Again.”
The rest of the day continues in the same manner. At about 6 Pierce sends the three trainees ahead of us and helps me to stand. “You never used to show weakness before anyone.”
“I suppose that I can no longer claim that.” We laugh together as he supports my weight. “You should not have called the doctor beforehand.”
“No, I suppose that was rather foolish of me. But I assure you, I can deal with minor injuries such as these.”
“You can, can you? If I remember correctly I am the one who took care of you during the war.” We laugh at each other, remembering the better portions of our lives together, attempting to ignore the worst of them.
Pierce cooks while I listen to the senseless chatter of Jo, Sydney and Thomas. They are discussing the differences in their training up until this point. I learn that Jo is a knife specialist, Thomas a sniper, and Sydney is an expert in hand-to-hand combat. I laugh at their friendly banter. “Anyone up for a game?” I smile at them.
“What kind of game? Is this going to include shooting at you again?” Jo smiles at me, but there seems to be an honest fear in her eyes.
“No, you can trust that we are done with that for a while.” I smile at them. “Why don’t we play a game of chess?”
“Stop teasing them, Phantom. You know you’ll win.”
“You caught me, Pierce. Perhaps I could moderate a game between you four. Test their ability to take orders.”
“Perhaps another time, Phantom. You must all eat and get some rest, it has been a long day for all of you.” He sets down mountains of food on the table and I find that my strength has been drained even in the short amount of time that I have been sitting here. I stumble and sink down onto the couch in the living room. Pierce sits down beside me, “You should eat.”
“I’m fine.” Despite my protests Pierce sets a plate of food in front of me and grabs the first aid kit. He starts to tend my wounds and I sit back, grimacing in pain. Seven minor bullet wounds, and the three gashes on my stomach reopened. Not the most comfortable situation. Needless to say, I am glad that my new students are done with that exercise.
“Phantom…. Phantom.” I look up, focusing. “How long has it been since you have slept? I mean really slept.”
“Don’t know.” I can feel myself slipping into eternity again. It’s not sleep, just oblivion.
“I need you to focus Phantom. You’re dehydrated and in dire need of sleep.” Behind me I can hear the three heading off to the extra rooms. “Drink this.” He holds a glass to my lips, I gulp it down greedily. Then, oblivion overtakes me and I sink into a dark and dreamless sleep.