Hours later, Alan came to find me. I was in the gym, level four, arms and body sore from vigorous punching, kicking and running practice. He came in through the sliding door, and I didn't see him at first. There were several rows of complicated, tall workout equipment between me and the door, and it obscured his head from my vision.
The room had a soft flowery scent put through the air conditioning to fight the odour of hard work and whatever miscellaneous scents its patrons acquired, but it wasn’t working very well. All I could smell was sweat, mostly my own, and the sickly clean smell of the disinfectant they sprayed on the equipment.
I’d been here for about four hours, but only actually doing anything for about half the time. The rest of the time, I had been sitting around on the rubbery floor, fiddling with my watch and watching other people train.
They’d been pretty impressive, for new recruits. I’d figured from the eager conversations I’d over heard the past week that most of them hadn’t been with the Alliance for very long at all. I guess that made sense. This was a training facility first and foremost. I was just getting evaluated here since there wasn’t a better place to do it.
Despite their inexperience, I was almost surprised that I could keep up with them. Most of them seemed more than fit than necessary, way more than I was when I joined. I wondered if the Alliance had raised the requirements since I got in. Wouldn’t really surprise me if they had, given the hellish beep test I’d endured days before.
Still, I was somewhat impressed with myself. I wasn’t exactly in perfect form, but I wasn’t falling over dead, either. I’d made it through the first half hour with hardly any discomfort, and after that, it still hadn’t been nearly as bad as I’d felt during the first couple of days here. I was almost shocked, really, with how much better I’d gotten in such a limited timespan. Part of me wondered if it was just like riding a bike; if all it took was a little practice to wipe off the dust before I was in tip top condition again. But another part, a part that got bigger with every solid punch I landed to the bag in front of me , wondered just what exactly had been in that little blue pill.
I pushed the thoughts to the back of my mind. It didn’t matter, anyway. I was fitter than I’d felt in ages. I felt capable. I was capable, and that’s all I needed to be.
My hands were wrapped, though not very well. I could feel the burn in my knuckles as I hit the same spot on the black bag over and over again. I landed a bunch dead center, set the bag into motion, and caught it again on the back swing with my other hand. The motion send an uncomfortable jab up the fibers of my arm, and I recoiled when the impact was too much.
"You can do better than that, Kalahan!"
I looked up, dropping my injured hand to my side. I only saw him when he stepped left into my field of vision. He seemed to be back in his regular cheery state, and I wondered if he was just putting it on for my sake.
I grabbed the punching bag around the bottom to still its movements, and stepped off of the area mat onto the floor. "Hey, Alan." I said with a sigh, reaching for the start of the boxing tape around my wrists. I grabbed the bright yellow fabric and started to unwind it.
Alan came closer, weaving through the unused gym equipment to come to my side. The gym hadn't been busy for a while. I'd arrived here an hour or so after leaving the mess hall, and while the room had been pretty full then then, people had been filtering in and out for the whole day until it was just me and a couple of gym rats left.
I grabbed my water bottle off the floor and squirted a gulp into my mouth. I threw my towel over my shoulder and turned from him, headed in the direction the change rooms. "How are you?" he asked, easily keeping pace. I didn't answer him at first, taking a few deep breathes as the heat radiated off my skin.
"I'm fine." I finally said, stopping just short of the change room door. "Just fuckin' peachy."
He gave me a sad smile, and ran a hand over his head. I leaned against the wall on my shoulder, leaning subtly back in the direction of the change rooms, eager to get to my destination.
"Well, I know it's not probably what you wanna talk about right now, but Patricia did have a point."
I nearly dropped my water bottle. Forgetting about the way I smelt, and the layer of oils making me feel grimy, I leaned back into the conversation and crossed my arms. "You're taking her side?" I said, incredulous. "You're the one who said I should be proud to pass so quickly. Don't you want me on the task force either?"
He lifted his hands, exposing open palms. Quickly, he spoke "No, no! Not that. Of course I want you for the," He said, lowering his arms and giving me a smile that came off way too forced. "I'm the one who asked for you, remember?"
"I mean," he stretched the word, tongue pressed tight against the inside of his perfect teeth. "That we do need to think about you getting the psychological evaluation. You passed the physicals, Kalahan, but you’re not in the clear. And I don’t wanna get on your ass about it the way Patricia is, but you can’t put off your psych forever. Right now, it’s the one thing keeping you from field duty.” He put a hand on my shoulder and smiled softly, almost apologetically. “And as much as I’d like to, there’s no little blue pill I can give you for that one.” A sadness entered his eyes. A sympathy that I wasn’t entirely comfortable with.
“I know I have to do it. I will do it.“ I said, shrugging my shoulder to remove his hand. “Promise. “
“Damn right you will.” He said, smirking. There was something to his expression that I didn’t quite like, and I got the feeling that he wasn’t done talking yet. He lifted his watch dramatically, exaggerating the motion, and glanced down, “...in about fifteen minutes.” His smirked transformed into a fully fledged grin.
“What?” I said.
“Now’s as good a time as any.” He said, look far too pleased with himself. “I booked you in. You’re due in a quarter hour.”
“What?” I repeated, running his words through my mind. He could’ve have done that, could he? I’m the patient, I need to make the booking, right? I can’t do it now.
“You heard me.” He said. “You have a meeting with Dr Latchman, Alliance Psychologist. she was even kind enough to leave her usual office and meet us in the building, so you’d better be polite enough to be punctual.”
"But I'm so-" I protested, choosing actions over words and gesturing to my body. Sweating, tired, hair pulled back in a tiny pony tail with strand falling across both sides of my face. “I can’t go right now.”
He looked me up and down, creased her brow for a second and said. “You have to go. We can’t cancel on such short notice. Five minutes, Waymire. In and out, then we head out immediately.”
I nodded numbly, securing my towel over my shoulder before turning and disappearing into the change room. I stepped across the linoleum floor quickly, heading for the nearest shower stall and reaching for the hem of my shirt.
“Make that three minutes, Kalahan!” He called from outside.