10. Training Day
Evidently, Nicole and Kayla had stayed true to their word. When Joe woke up the next morning, Sydney was gone once again. Presumably, she had been taken away to do more conditioning. Joe went to their tiny kitchen and grabbed some breakfast, making sure to get something for Sydney too just in case Nicole and Kayla decided to cut her break short again.
It didn't take long for Sydney to return and she seemed much happier than she had been the day before. She wasn't moaning about her sore muscles and she didn't look as exhausted. Joe wondered if they had gone easier on her today, or if she was just getting better.
She smiled when she saw Joe had set out two bowls of cereal and made her way over to him. "Are you my wife now? Setting out food for me after a hard day's work?" She taunted Joe, that familiar teasing spark in her eyes. "Aren't you supposed to set out a glass of whiskey for me too?"
Joe scoffed to hide his laugh. "I was being a good friend. Try saying thank you. And it's hardly been a full day. You couldn't have been doing that much work. You barely look tired. Did you even break a sweat this morning?"
Sydney shook her head, but couldn't stop herself from smiling. "Thanks. Nicole and Kayla only gave me fifteen minutes before we have to leave for today's training session." Sydney's smile softened. "Is it weird that I'm actually kind of looking forward to this? I did well yesterday. I know I did, even if Nicole says otherwise. I saw how awed they were by my shot. Maybe they were just jealous."
"It was pretty impressive," Joe agreed, remembering the explosion Sydney had caused yesterday. He had never seen that much power before. "Think you'll get to do any more fun stuff like that today?"
"I hope so. It better not be more questions either. That was awful." Sydney shook her head.
"Yeah, I wasn't exactly expecting to be questioned like that. I felt like I was being interrogated for some crime I had committed. How many people do you think they keep files on? It can't just be you and me."
"I don't know. Anyone who has access to time travel probably. I still don't know how to feel about all this. Part of me wants to go home and forget it ever happened. But I'd be lying if I said part of me didn't want to stay here and learn everything I can about this new life I've been thrown into." Sydney sighed and glanced at the clock. She let out a groan. "Time's up. Better get going before they come down here and drag us out."
Joe nodded and went to fetch The Book. They were out the door in no time, heading off to today's challenges.
Nicole and Kayla were standing outside a new room and had been deep in conversation when Joe and Sydney walked up to them, but abruptly cut themselves off the moment they noticed they were no longer alone. They put on their usual pleasant smiles and greeted them both.
"Were we interrupting something?" Joe looked back and forth between the two of them. Whatever they had been discussing had seemed important to them, important enough that Sydney and Joe apparently weren't allowed to overhear what they were talking about.
Kayla shook her head, never losing that receptionist's smile of hers. "No, no. We were just discussing future plans for..."
"Instruction," Nicole finished for her when Kayla failed to find the right word. To Joe, that proved that they were lying and had been conversing about something more important than they were letting on, but he shrugged it off, knowing they weren't going to tell him anyway.
"So given your talent that you displayed yesterday," Nicole turned to her daughter, "we figured we'd try something a little more advanced today. It will be a combination of time magic and testing your stamina and reflexes. You'll find it's not so easy to summon up time when you're running through an obstacle course."
"Obstacle course?" Sydney perked up. "You mean like dodging huge swinging pendulums or parkour? I've always wanted to get into parkour. It seems so fun."
"A combination of that really. Come inside, you'll see." Nicole motioned for them to follow her and pushed open the tall doors. Everyone followed her into the room they had been standing outside of.
Today's room was entirely different. It was much larger than the one they had been in yesterday and had plenty more equipment in it as well. This equipment was newer and looked to be higher tech than the simple punching bags and gym mats they had seen the day before. An obstacle course had been set up like Nicole had implied. Ramps, poles, climbing walls, and even grappling ledges were set up around the area, and that was just what Joe could see from his current standpoint. He had no doubt that there was more mixed in that he couldn't see.
A few targets stood out here and there as well as several obstacles. There were hoops, large balls prepared and ready to swing out, and holes in almost every wall with who knows what inside waiting pop out and collide with the runner.
"The goal is simple. Run the course and shoot any targets that you see. Obviously, you need to do this as quickly as possible. You will go through this course several times until we are satisfied with your time, then we will move on to something else." Nicole pointed to the starting line and explained the order of the course to Sydney.
Joe was glad he had brought The Book with him again. He could tell this was going to be a long day. He needed to start reading it anyway. It was about time he actually learned how to use it properly. Seeing Sydney train gave Joe the idea of asking his Uncle Joe for lessons with The Book. After all, he was its previous owner and it seemed like the best place to go to study time travel, other than the Warp Academy, and he was sure Uncle Joe would be love to do it.
Sydney stood waiting at the start of the course. She kept shifting her weight from foot to foot, unable to hide her enthusiasm. Joe decided to watch her run for a short while before digging into The Book.
Nicole counted her down and Sydney took off like a bullet. She started the track off well, shooting down the first few targets no problem. But the course got progressively harder as it went along. Sydney ran around a corner and stood facing a narrow gap between two walls. A few foot and handholds were placed into the walls. Sydney charged forward and jumped back and forth between the two walls, but she had barely begun when she fell into the foam pit waiting below. She had tried to jump to the next wall, but there was no ledge for her to grab. Small foam blocks went flying as she crashed down with a high-pitched yelp.
Joe winced and tried to get a better view to see if she was all right. He glanced at Nicole, expecting her to go help Sydney, but instead only saw her shake her head in disappointment. "I knew that would happen."
"Then why didn't you try to stop it?" Sydney yelled as she climbed out of the pit and moved back to the beginning.
"You'll learn better this way. You're too impulsive. You need to look ahead and plan out your path before you go charging in. Try again." Nicole directed her back to the starting point without another word.
Joe frowned at Nicole's reaction. It wasn't exactly very motherly of her and the glare Sydney threw at her as she walked back to the beginning showed that she had similar opinions.
She readied herself to start the course once again. It took her fifteen tries before she finally completed the entire course. Joe had planned to read The Book occasionally, but he couldn't take his eyes off of Sydney. She was captivating to watch. Even when Nicole scolded her about her methods or she tripped on and landed on her face, she never lost that fire that burned in her eyes. When she finished the track, the fire only grew brighter, but the exhaustion was evident everywhere else.
"Not bad," Nicole said nonchalantly. "But I'm sure you can do it quicker. Again."
Sydney dropped her jaw and she stared at Nicole in disbelief. "You're joking right? I don't even get a second to breathe in between runs? Why don't we switch to something else for a change? I've been doing this for over an hour!"
"No. Trust me, I know what I'm doing." Nicole pursed her lips and stared at her daughter with a mix of dismay and anger. "And you could breathe now if you weren't so busy talking back to me."
"Mallory was a much better mother than you," Sydney grumbled in a low voice as she walked to the start for the sixteenth time.
"What was that?" Nicole's voice took on a sudden edge.
"Nothing." Sydney forced herself to put on a smile for Nicole. She readied herself to sprint through the course again and waited for her mother's cue to start. "Are you going to count me down or what?"
The rest of the exercise continued on like that. Nicole, apparently never happy with Sydney's time or mad about the things she had said, made her do the course over and over again. It was the only thing Sydney got to do that entire day. Joe wasn't sure if Nicole was ever going to tell her to stop. Eventually, she did dismiss her and Sydney skulked out the room, her fists clenched tight, and a dark storm cloud practically formed over her head.
Joe was right on her heels. "You did a great job today. Ignore Nicole. She probably doesn't know how to be a good mother anyway. I loved watching you." Joe blushed when he realized how that sounded and swiftly corrected himself. "I mean, that parkour stuff was really cool to see."
"Thanks," Sydney growled. She nearly kicked down the door to their suite when they got back. She seated herself on the couch with a huff. Her shoulder's drooped, her exhaustion winning over her anger. "Would it kill her to be a little more supportive? Or give some constructive criticism kindly? It's not that hard."
Joe tentatively sat down next to her. "I'm sure she'll improve over time, but there's not really too much you can do about it."
Sydney sighed, a small amount of her anger dissipating. "I guess you're right. None of this is turning out like I thought it would. I'd definitely rather go home and forget about all this now, but I don't think that's an option for me." A small frown appeared on her lips.
Joe felt bad for her. Her entire life had been taken away from her in a day. She didn't even get the chance to say goodbye to her friends. "It'll get better. Whatever happened to not letting life get to you?"
Sydney mouth twitched up in a smile. She turned and locked eyes with Joe. "I almost forgot about that. I'm really glad you stayed, Joe. You've proven to be a good friend to me through all this. I can't imagine it's been easy."
Joe matched her smile with one of his own. "Any time. I'm glad I could help. You've been a good friend too. It may not have been easy, but it's been interesting, which is a lot more fun."
Sydney laughed. "True. I bet you'd have more fun if you did some of these exercises with me. I'd love to see you try to run that obstacle course."
Joe shook his head with a chuckle. "I think I'll pass. I'll leave the dangerous work-outs to you."
Before they knew it, the duo found themselves chatting away all night long, not even realizing how much time had passed.