“It’s all in your stance,” Charlie advised. He kicked Delta’s feet a little farther apart, circling him and the kickboxing bag once more. “How you carry yourself defines who you are. Not only in combat, but in every day life.” Delta’s eyes narrowed at the heavy bag, fists tightening inside the wraps. Across the room, Foxtrot was gently guiding Zulu through a routine. If showing her how to make the chains holding the bag groan with effort was gentle, that is.
Charlie clearing his throat snapped Delta’s attention back to the task at hand. Right. He had to get this down. Even if he was going to be the technical part of the team, he had to learn how to defend himself. And he was in no way able to defend himself as he was. That’s what shutting himself in his room got him, he supposed. But now he was on something bigger than himself (which wasn’t saying much). Larger than life, even. And he could not give that up, not if he valued his life in any way, shape, or form.
On Charlie’s command, he tucked his fists close to his face and pulled his leg from the ground. He felt the bag push against the sole of his foot when he kicked, making it at least budge. He looked to Charlie nearly immediately for approval, letting his fists drop. The man nodded, keeping his arms crossed. His shoulders shrugged up for a moment. Then he started walking towards Foxtrot and Zulu.
Delta didn’t hear what Charlie said to her, but Foxtrot was now walking towards him. Charlie was already talking to Zulu in the same tone he had used for Delta. Foxtrot was standing next to him, though, gesturing for him to try again. She waved him toward the sand bag with a graceful hand. Delta picked his fists up to his chin and gave the bag a harsh kick. His eyes darted to Foxtrot for approval. She gave a slight nod, mentally evaluating. After a few seconds of awkward silence, she stepped closer to him. Stood even straighter to have Delta mimic her actions like a mirror. He straightened up, trying to carry himself with confidence. Foxtrot stepped behind him to pull his shoulders back, making him stand even straighter. Pushed down, pushing him into more of a lunge. Kicked his feet apart just as Charlie did. He saw her hand extend towards the bag, and he kicked it again. It moved a little more, about as much as Foxtrot would expect from someone of his build.
Over the next couple of days, Delta and Zulu could feel themselves wearing thin. This conditioning was going to kill them, metaphorically at the least. They drilled through every move Foxtrot and Charlie could think of until they couldn’t stand any more. Yesterday, the two newbies had geared up in padding covering them from head to toe and fought each other, with advice from their respective coaches. Foxtrot had found the time to type out and print a list of the things he should watch out for, which surprised none of them. But today was the last day, where they would be evaluated on what they had learned. No guard rails. And if they passed, they would officially be Delta and Zulu of the Atlantic Division, members of the National Organization of Anarchy, or the NOA. Famed for their heists and resulting donations to charities across the country, which always ended up coming in groups, and across the country. For now, the two were only called Delta and Zulu to avoid using their true names. But after this, it was make or break.
If they showed enough promise, Foxtrot and Charlie just might consider further training and another evaluation. But that was a big if. Considering that all of Zulu’s victories yesterday were a result of strategy and Delta’s were from sweeping her feet from beneath her, he didn’t have very much hope.
They walked into the studio with duffel bags in hand. The lights were already on. Foxtrot and Charlie sat at the far end of the room, beside the ring. They had their own duffel bags with them, Charlie’s a brown leather and Foxtrot’s a smaller black canvas. Both of them had the NOA emblem on their bags in plain white.
When they got close enough to be within earshot, the two stood to lean against the ring. “Good morning,” Charlie greeted. Foxtrot waved at them. Each of them gave their own greeting in response. Charlie grinned, maintaining a cheery disposition despite how serious the situation was. Or maybe it was all for show, they could never tell. “Are you ready?” he asked. Met with a nod, Charlie continued on. “Over the past week, you’ve learned various skills. Yesterday, you used those skills on each other. Today, we see if those skills really stuck. And from what we’ve seen, you both seem very promising.” At this point, Foxtrot slid against the side of the platform. How much did he really have to go through these theatrics? She reached for her duffel bag. “So, today, you’ll be fighting us. Professionally.”
Both of the newbies’ hearts sank to the pit of their stomach. They had approximately no faith in themselves to win against the professional fighters standing in front of them.
Foxtrot was already pulling out various things from her bag. Charlie cleared his throat. “So, you two, go get warmed up.”
While Delta and Zulu practiced various combinations on the sandbags, Charlie and Foxtrot helped each other adjust their gear. They got into the ring, circling each other for a while before Charlie made the first move. He lunged forward, throwing a punch that Foxtrot easily dodged. It went like that for a while. Charlie punched or kicked. Foxtrot dodged. She threw a kick occasionally, knocking him back a pace. Delta paused his warmups to watch them. She darted around him like a hummingbird. Ever so easy to miss. Everything they did was exact, precise, strategic.
The final move was on Foxtrot’s behalf, when she used the same move Delta had pulled on Zulu the day before. She hooked an ankle around Charlie’s calf and pulled, bringing him down. He hit the mat with a loud thump. Foxtrot nodded to herself before helping him back up. Together they looked over to their trainees and wordlessly beckoned them to the rink.
Charlie knelt down and stuck a hand beneath the ropes. “Zulu, you wanna go first?” he asked. She knew she didn’t really have a choice, so she nodded and accepted his help up. Delta handed her fighting gear to her piece by piece. Charlie helped tighten the helmet appropriately, giving her pointers. Foxtrot slipped out of the ring to stand beside Delta. Once everything was set, the two began circling each other. It was like predator and prey. The two in the audience watched them both with bated breath. Of course Charlie would go easy on her, but it was a matter of how easy.
Ultimately, it was Zulu who made the first move. She dove in for a hook, which Charlie narrowly missed. She spun for a roundhouse kick. It landed in Charlie’s side. Foxtrot tensed. He was letting himself be driven back. He reared back and dug a punch into her abdomen. It took her back a couple paces. She immediately jumped into another spin kick. Even Delta could tell that was a mistake. She hadn’t even bothered to regain her footing. She managed to land the spin kick but stumbled back. Charlie kicked her square in the chest, nearly knocking her down. He went for another kick, aimed at her helmet. She grabbed his ankle and pulled. He hit the ground with another loud thump. But Zulu’s instability pulled her down too, forcing her into a position where she was holding his shoulders. It served a decent purpose, pinning him to the mats.
Zulu had won. Despite the fact that both of them were out of breath. A smile spread across her face, eyes lighting up. She scrambled to her feet and helped Charlie up. He looked over to Foxtrot, who gave a curt nod. He looked back to Zulu. “Welcome to the Atlantic Division,” he welcomed. Her grin spread even wider.
Charlie and Zulu now had front row seats to Delta and Foxtrot’s fight. As Delta got his gear on, Foxtrot re-wrapped her hands. He might have been going a little slower than usual. Nobody could really blame him; his heart felt like it was going to pound straight through his chest. Was there any way possible he could win this? The least he could do was try to last long enough that he showed promise.
“Hey Foxtrot,” Charlie called half-heartedly. Foxtrot looked to him. “Go easy on the kid.” She rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to Delta. He adjusted the final strap on his helmet. They both put their fists up and began circling.
It took a long time for either of them to make the first move; Foxtrot nearly never did and Delta was too afraid. But it was Foxtrot that lunged forward and landed a kick in his side. She jumped back, anticipating a comeback. He threw a hook at her. She avoided it easily. They went in a back and forth for a while. Delta eventually started getting better at avoiding her blows. But the two audience members could see he was letting himself be driven back. His back hit the ropes. Foxtrot unleashed a combo on him that ended with a spin kick. He didn’t think he could do this much longer.
But why was he here, then? To let it be proven that he couldn’t do this? He was stronger than he originally believed. Just within the past week, he’d learned more than he could have hoped to. He could do this, he had to. Delta landed a blow in Foxtrot’s abdomen. It knocked her back far enough for him to advance. He started giving his own combo. She avoided only about half of the blows. But before he knew it, Delta was falling backwards. Foxtrot had used the same move against him as she had with Charlie. And that Delta had on Zulu.
He hit the mat. Foxtrot stood over him. He swore he could see a tinge of disappointment etched into her features. Maybe it was just a trick of the mind. She slipped out of the ring and started taking her gear off. Delta lifted himself up. Was that it, then? Would they leave him?
Foxtrot’s phone gave one shrill ring. She flipped it open to read the text. It was aimed at two in the Atlantic Division, any two, to go to a certain address. She handed the phone off to Charlie and started taking her gear off. “You want me to go with you?” he asked. Foxtrot looked down at the phone again, her eyes narrowing into slits. She shrugged and jabbed a thumb in Delta’s direction. He paused in the middle of the ropes. Charlie’s eyebrows raised. “What’s your vote?”
That got him a deep breath from Foxtrot, in more contemplation than anything else. Delta hopped down onto the floor. In the end, she zipped her bag and started toward the exit without a word. Delta felt a pit growing in his stomach. Of course. He slipped off his helmet and tried to smooth his hair back. Charlie called to Foxtrot one last time, “You didn’t answer. And you’re not going this alone.” She turned to him and raised an eyebrow. “My vote is yes,” he called.
Foxtrot turned her gaze to Delta, who was still waiting there. He almost resembled a kicked puppy. Foxtrot sighed and closed her eyes. From the other end of the room, they saw her nod.