The First of Many

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Chapter 10

Hannah awoke from a fitful sleep and reached for her gear, but something was wrong. She grasped at air.

Hannah blinked a few times, rolling out of bed to search further, but her gear – in fact, almost all her things besides plain shirts and a few pairs of pants – had vanished in the night.

She dressed in what she had and walked out to the assembly of her classmates. She looked around and saw that she was the only one out of uniform and quickly searched the crowd to find Michaels. He stood on the other side of the Mess hall, smirking at her with a self-satisfied look on his face.

She didn't want to make a scene in from of the instructors so she decided to just sit and eat her meal, quietly and intently.

She ate quickly and assembled with her classmates outside, standing in formation with the others. She continued staring straight ahead of her as the instructor spotted her, stopped, stared, and reached her in two long strides.

“SOLOMON, WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING TO MY BELOVED PLATOON?” the instructor roared, inches away from her face.

Hannah forced herself to stare back at him, refusing to lower her gaze. “Sir, when I awoke today, my gear had vanished.”

“And why,” he said testily, “did you not go to the supplier and get more?”

“Sir, when we arrived, we were warned of the penalty for tardiness. We were told to arrive precisely at 0500, and I did. I chose the option with the least risk.”

"You will need to get new gear – but only after the course," The instructor said as he turned to the other classmates. "You will run the course in no less than fifteen minutes. Anyone late will be doing push-ups until they puke."

As far as Hannah was concerned, the obstacle course was simple. She easily took the lead, her vision narrowing to shades of red as she forced the pain back and threw herself at the obstacles. With the lack of gear, she was lighter on her feet than her classmates, and she took full advantage of the fact. She saw the last obstacle in the distance, and didn't think twice of throwing herself at a barbed wire obstacle.

She was out of practice, though: it had been a year since she'd actually gone through a barbed wire obstacle, and doing one wearing a pair of pants and a thin shirt, although she'd done it before, had never particularly appealed to her.

She had fallen into her share of barbed wire and broken glass when she had worked the streets, but there was a difference between simply falling, and having long, continuous lines scraped down her back with a razor-sharp wire, in a pit full of pig guts and blood.

Pain surged through her body as she pulled herself through the course. She couldn't stop, her body running on autopilot as she moved on.

Pain is weakness, Nine's voice said in her head. You will not be weak, you will not feel pain.

You don't have a choice. You never have a choice.

If you scream for me, Mirage, you lose the game. You don't want to lose, do you, beautiful?

She hadn't survived Department Nine to fall because of some stupid wire.

She bit her lip, closed her eyes, and tried to take comfort in the fact that even though she was losing blood at an alarming rate and yellow-black spots like old bruises were dancing through her field of vision, she wouldn't be the last to arrive.

She was actually among the first ten to finish the course, pushing on through every obstacle as fast as she could. She could barely feel her back: the pain had merged into her surroundings and become normal. She collapsed as soon as she passed the finish line, curled into a fetal position as she bit her lip to blood to avoid crying out.

Hands caught her, pulling her fists open and helping her rise.

“You got this, Solomon,” one of the twins said. “Let's get you back.”

“Get her to the barracks,” their instructor said. “Try to fix her up a bit, too.”

“Sir, she has to go to med bay, she's seriously injured,” the slightly shorter one said.

Hannah growled. “I'm fine,” she wheezed out. “Let's just go.”

The twins nodded, obeying and helping her limp back to the barracks.


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