Chapter 10 – Progression
8 Years Ago
“Alright, up again! One more time!”
A young teenaged boy pursed his lips in response to the command, but nonetheless pulled himself back to his feet. He wiped the sweat from his brow and began running, pounding his feet against the dirt beneath him as he ran along the forest path.
“Aw, this is boring…”
The boy glanced to his right, where a girl his age was easily keeping stride next to him, without even breaking a sweat.
She spun around and began jogging backwards as she gestured toward the middle-aged man standing by the path’s starting point. “When do you think he’ll let us focus on the cool stuff?”
“Whenever we’re ready for it,” the boy replied. “You should take this training seriously, Danielle.”
“Aw, c’mon,” she complained, turning back around to run the right way. “You know physical training doesn’t give me anything, Mote! I mean, c’mon, whenever I need muscles I can just turn into a version of me that has them. And you’re pretty strong already, too. This whole thing is a waste of time.”
“This isn’t just about the physicality,” Mote countered. “Drills are supposed to teach discipline, as well. Discipline that you’re spurning.”
“Who needs discipline when you can transform into basically anyone or anything you want?”
“That kind of thinking is exactly why you need discipline.” He cautiously looked about himself as the two rounded a sharp bend, but he never once broke his steady pace. “Being able to use your powers isn’t all that matters.”
“Because I’m right.”
“I bet you don’t even know why you’re right.”
Mote scowled. “…Look. This training is important. If it helps, just pretend that you’re also training your Transtechnism.”
“That’s what I’ve been doing,” Danielle replied. “…You know, I bet Saito only trains us like this ‘cause he doesn’t know how to train Chaotics.”
“Who does? We’re the first ones Earth has seen.”
“So? We could go train with the Nimalians, or something, right?”
“You know we can’t do that. Not until we’re older, at least.”
Mote rolled his eyes. “Fine. How about this, then — after we’re done with Saito’s drills, we can meet up in the forest behind the base and have a few sparring matches.”
Danielle immediately broke into an eager grin. “Yeah! That sounds fantastic!”
“But we have to keep a limit on our powers. No breaking anything, and if anyone sees us or tells us to stop, we stop.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, I know…”
“Good. And I’ll be grading you, as always.”
“Aw, you always say that. You need to focus on improving yourself, too, you know!”
“Not as much as you do. I don’t complain about our training drills.”
“Yeah, but you do talk during them.”
“Tch…” Mote pursed his lips and stared straight forward as they rounded one final bend, the end of the path coming into view nearly a hundred meters away. He remained silent for the rest of the run, doing his level best to ignore Danielle’s cheeky grin as they once more caught up to Saito.
* * *
— Saturday, October 8, AD 2129 —
“You’re wavering… you’re drifting… stop drifting!”
“Alright, that’s enough.” Mote stepped forward to grab Austin’s outstretched arm and push it down, cutting off the arc of lightning between Austin’s fingers and a metal target against the wall two meters away. He sighed and shook his head; Austin had progressed to the point of being able to copy the basics of Mote’s electricity powers, and could even create a steady arc of lightning… for less than ten seconds at a time. Furthermore, his accuracy and precision both left much to be desired — the path Austin traced with his lightning arc ran haphazard all across the face of the metal target, and not a single part of the path intersected with the center-most area. There’s still a lot of progress to make here, Mote thought to himself in irritation, I could make steady arcs within two weeks of discovering my powers, there’s hardly any excuse for him to be so far behind…
“Well? How’d I do?”
Mote turned toward Austin, who was staring at him expectantly. “…I’d give that a D,” Mote eventually commented. “You’re making progress, I’ll give you that. But…” He looked to his left; in the other half of the training room, Austin’s friends were also practicing their powers with the aid of Mark. Mote had decided that today’s training session would be what he referred to as “consistency training”, that being the ability to consistently use one’s power over extended periods of time. So Sky was igniting fires in her palms and holding them for up to a minute at a time, Spike was materializing massive shields and then bearing their weight for as long as he could, and Twy was focusing on holding a fist-sized bubble of water steady between her hands. Mark was overseeing their training while Mote tended to Austin, though Mote could still tell that all of Austin’s friends were managing to consistently use their powers for at least a minute — which was several times longer than anything Austin had accomplished.
Austin noticed Mote’s gaze lingering on his friends and sighed. “Look, man, I’m tryin’ my best.”
“It still isn’t enough,” Mote replied as he turned his attention back to Austin. “Your friends are outperforming you handily; surely even you can see that.”
“Well yeah, but that’s ‘cause they’re usin’ their own powers! They can practice whenever they want, but I can only use lightning when I’m, like, right next to you.”
“Even so, your baseline progress is abysmal. It’s my understanding that a Simulator Psychotechnic should be able to quickly pick up on the basics of any ability that they’re simulating.”
“Your understanding? You’ve never even met a Simulator aside from me, have you?”
“Whether or not I have is beside the point. Simulating my lightning is still well within the purview of consistency training: we’re training your ability to consistently simulate someone else’s ability.”
“And there’s a whole two layers there! I have to both copy your ability and be good at usin’ it, that’s barely fair! At least let me copy Twy or Sky, I have more chances to practice with their abilities than with yours.”
“Yet I know my own powers best, and thus have a better reference to compare you to.”
“And that ain’t fair either! I’ve heard about the shit you can do, and it’s fuckin’ nuts! There’s no way you can hold me to that standard!”
“You would be able to do the same as I, if only you focused and properly trained, instead of distracting us both with pointless arguments.”
“You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me… well, at least let me do this ‘consistency training’ with my Imperator powers. I’ve got a lot more practice with those!”
“…Fine. But on your own time, you have to practice both of your powers equally, so don’t forget to train your Simulator skills too. I’ll be testing those later.”
“Alright, alright…” Austin rolled his eyes and then held up his hands. “Well, you better get your timer ready.”
“What?” Mote gave Austin an incredulous look. “I haven’t even given you anything for you to control.”
Austin smirked. “I don’t need anything when I’ve got me! Just watch this.” He clapped his hands together; a brief moment later, his body lifted up into the air, such that he was levitating a few inches off of the ground.
Mote raised an eyebrow in surprise. Three seconds… five seconds… ten seconds later, and Austin was still hovering in the air. “…Alright,” Mote eventually commented, “I must admit. I wasn’t aware you could do this.”
Austin didn’t respond; he didn’t even look at Mote. In fact, his eyes were clenched shut as his attention seemed to be entirely focused on holding himself in the air.
And this is where the lack of training comes in, Mote thought idly. He can’t focus on anything BUT levitating, can he? He truly is a novice. “Austin. …Austin!”
Still no response.
Impatient, Mote arced a small streak of lightning toward Austin, startling him and breaking his concentration. He immediately dropped to the ground and stumbled, though managed to prevent himself from completely falling over.
“Hey!” Austin turned toward Mote irately. “The hell was that for?!”
“You weren’t responding to me,” Mote replied. “As neat as that trick was, it’s worthless if you can’t concentrate on anything but levitating.”
“…You were talkin’ to me?”
“Yes, I was.”
“Oh.” Austin frowned. “…Aw. But, that’s weird… this seemed so much easier when I was fightin’ EA…”
“Wait, you could do this since your fight with EA?” Mote drew back as genuine surprise momentarily crossed his face. “How did I not know this?”
“You keep focusin’ on my Simulator powers, that’s why.” Austin crossed his arms in irritation. “Every damn trainin’ session, it’s ‘copy Twy’ or ‘copy me’ or ‘copy this’ or ‘copy that’. It’s like you forgot about my Imperator abilities altogether!”
“…Well, either way. You did better than I expected, but still not as well as I hoped.”
“Man, your standards are ridiculous. You should go read the stupid report I had to write about my fight with EA, you’d see that I did some impressive shit then!”
“A Chaotic’s abilities will always be moderately heightened in a true combat scenario, thanks to adrenaline. But combat showings, especially for novices, can be inconsistent. The only way to reduce that inconsistency is to train your abilities in a controlled environment… like we are now. And your constant complaining is continuing to cut into our time.”
“Well if you hadn’t fucking shocked me, then I would be training!”
“Tch.” Mote pursed his lips with frustration. “Alright, get back to levitating, then. Try not to use all of your concentration just to stay in one place this time, though.”
“Yeah, yeah…” Austin rolled his eyes again; Mote wasn’t pleased with the attitude, but they had wasted enough time bickering as is. Austin was finally willing to actually engage in training, so Mote was going to milk this opportunity for everything he could.
Austin clapped his hands again and lifted up into the air, his attention once more directed at his hands. Mote observed with his hands on his hips for several seconds; Austin’s position in the air remained fairly steady, but his concentration again seemed to be dedicated entirely to doing so. Getting him to an acceptable level of skill is going to take forever, Mote thought bitterly. Can’t someone else take care of training him and his friends?
“How’s it going?”
“Hm?” Mote glanced back to see Mark approaching. He then looked beyond Mark to Sky, Twy, and Spike, all of whom were still focusing on their powers. “It’s… going,” Mote replied quietly as he turned his attention back to Mark. “Not as well as the others, but it’s going.”
Mark looked up at Austin, who was still absorbed with the task of holding himself in the air. “Looks like he’s doing fine to me.”
“Really,” Mote deadpanned, and then turned toward Austin. “Austin. Austin!” When the Imperator Psychotechnic failed to respond, Mote glanced back at Mark with mild frustration.
“…I see.” Mark nodded slowly. “…Well, the fact that he can even concentrate that hard is progress on its own.”
“Mmm… I suppose so.”
“You ‘suppose’?” Mark stared at Mote incredulously. “Don’t you think you’re being a little hard on him?”
“It’s the only way to get through to him.”
“I don’t think ‘tough love’ is backed by any credible research. Not that I’ve heard, at least.”
Mote threw Mark an irritated glance. “Did you just come here to question if I know what I’m doing?”
“Do you know what you’re doing?”
“…” Mote faltered for a moment. He looked over at Austin, who was still levitating in the air, before turning back to Mark and lowering his voice to a near-whisper. “Honestly? No, I don’t. I’ve never trained anyone aside from myself before. I don’t know how to train Chaotics. It isn’t my job!”
“I’ll give you that,” Mark responded in hushed tones. “You could look up training regimens online, maybe. There’s stuff on the Relaynet you could look at.”
“Chaotic training regimens? Nonsense. Chaotics are military resources, which means that their training regimens would be military secrets. There’s no way you’d find anything credible online.”
“That’s not entirely true, actually. I’ve heard that there are some private Nimalian schools for Chaotics, and some of them publish their curriculum on the Relaynet. You should check them out.”
“Private schools? For Chaotics? That post their curriculum online? What kind of fantasy land do you live in?”
“Seriously, Mote. Look up the Nimalian Schools of Chaos, it’s literally as simple as a single query.”
“Even so. The whole point behind training up these novices is to reduce our reliance on the other civilizations in the galaxy. Stealing their training regimens would run counter to the goal.”
“Reducing our dependence on our allies doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from them. In fact, it would be incredibly ignorant and arrogant both to believe as much.”
“I’m just saying, Mote. The Nimalians have a lot more experience with training Chaotics than we do, so why not borrow their knowledge? No need to reinvent the wheel.”
“…I’ll consider it,” Mote responded, just as a loud growl emanated from Austin’s stomach. The levitating Chaotic promptly dropped to the floor, where he stumbled and then fell over on his rear, thoroughly disoriented.
“Ow…” he muttered painfully, “aw…”
“I see you finally lost concentration,” Mote commented, his arms crossed.
“Only ‘cause I got hungry,” Austin muttered, and then looked up at Mote and Mark. “Is it lunchtime yet? I haven’t eaten since breakfast!”
“That is usually the case with lunchtime.”
“Ah, you know what I fuckin’ meant.” Austin pulled himself up to his feet and dusted himself off. “So how’d I do?”
“…Not bad,” Mote conceded. “Your level of concentration is… surprising. If only you’d apply that to the rest of your training.” He glanced over his shoulder at the other three recruits, and then at the wall behind Austin, on which a clock was mounted. It currently read out a time of twelve o’clock, on the dot.
“Seems like lunchtime to me,” Mark commented as he followed Mote’s gaze to the clock.
“Yes…” Mote nodded. Austin immediately sighed of relief and started toward the room’s exit, but Mote stopped him. “We aren’t done training today. In one hour, you need to be back right here for our afternoon session. Understood?”
“Jesus, you’re gonna fuckin’ drive me into the ground. And on a Saturday, too…” Austin muttered.
Sparks began to wreath Mote’s arms. “What did I tell you about attitude?”
“Alright, alright, no need for the fuckin’ shocks…” Austin held up his hands and shied away. “I’ll be back on time. Promise.”
Mote nodded and glanced over at Mark, who was dismissing the other recruits for lunch. He then turned back toward Austin. “Good. Though you’d better eat a good, healthy lunch, because you’re going to need it. Now, dismissed.”
* * *
1 Hour Later
“A mock battle?!”
“That’s right.” Mote nodded once as he looked over Austin, Spike, Sky, and Twy. “The four of you against me.”
“Four on one? Ha!” Sky grinned as she planted her fists on her hips. “Not to mention, a chance to finally beat you up? I’ll take that!”
“Don’t be so cocky,” Mote warned. “As you are now, none of you could even dream of taking me down in an even fight, even if you worked together perfectly.”
Austin scowled. “Then what’s the point of a mock battle? Do you just wanna beat us up for no damn reason?”
“No, and if you stopped to listen, then I could tell you the parameters of our mock battle.”
Austin and Sky quieted down, though they both wore expressions of mixed incredulity and impatience. From what Mote could tell, Spike and Twy were feeling much the same, though also with a hint of resignation. With temperaments like these… I almost wonder if it’s too soon for a mock battle, Mote thought to himself, and then glanced over at Mark, who stood at the side of the room. …No. Even if they fail miserably, they should be far enough along that I can turn it into a decent teaching moment. I hope…
“Thank you,” Mote eventually continued, in response to the recruits’ silence. “Now. The goal of this mock battle is simple: one of you, any of you, needs to lay your hands on me before two minutes are up. I will not attack any of you, and will use my powers only in a defensive manner.”
“If you can use your powers, then I assume that means we can use ours, too?” Spike questioned.
“Yes. Maintain proper restraint; you don’t want to injure yourself, your friends, or the room. But otherwise, I encourage you to pour as much power into your attacks and movements as you can. Trust me, you’ll need it.”
“Are you sure that’s safe?” Twy asked with a wary frown.
Mote scoffed. “Nothing any of you can do can hurt me. And if any of you start to get out of control, then I’ll simply activate the room’s CENT field. I know what I’m doing.”
“Alright. Seems simple enough,” Spike remarked as he began rolling his shoulders and stretching. He then looked over at Mark. “I guess he’ll be timin’ us, huh?”
“And acting as referee!” Mark shouted from across the room.
Mote glanced toward Mark before looking over the training room again. It was the size of a basketball court; in fact, it used to be one before being converted into a Chaotic training room. Many of the old markings on the floor remained, giving Mote a decent set of distance references. Should be plenty of space in here to move around. Let’s just hope that the recruits have enough control over their powers to not wreck the room. “Now…” Mote spoke up as he turned back to face the recruits. “Any questions before we begin?”
“We just have to tag you to win, right?” Austin questioned.
“Then we’re ready to go!” Sky exclaimed, bouncing eagerly on the balls of her feet. “C’mon! I’m tired of waiting!”
“Alright, then.” Mote held up his hand toward Mark, gesturing for him to ready his stopwatch. He then positioned himself halfway down the room from the four recruits. “When I say ‘begin’, we start. Three… two… one… begin!”
As soon as the word left his mouth, a bubble of water began to form around him, while Austin and Spike simultaneously rushed forward. Mote immediately crouched down and instantaneously altered the magnetic charge of the floor and the soles of his shoes, giving them both the same magnetic charge — and so flinging him up into the air, just in time to escape being trapped in a bubble of water. Sky and Spike both reacted by launching projectiles at Mote — a fireball from Sky, and a fabricated shield from Spike — but the fireball intercepted the shield and knocked both off course, allowing Mote to safely ignore them as he fell back to the ground. He turned his attention to Austin, who had managed to close the distance between them and was now reaching toward Mote; Mote quickly acted to impart a magnetic charge to both himself and Austin so as to propel them away from each other, but despite sensing his own change in magnetic charge, Austin continued to approach ever closer.
What the hell—? Mote grit his teeth and cut off his surprised thoughts to choose another course of action. Just as Austin’s hand reached to within an inch of Mote’s shoulder, the Electrotechnic dropped to the floor and rolled to the side. He then sprung back to his feet and magnetically launched himself toward the far wall, at which point he whipped around to eye Austin with irritation. Ah, that’s right. Chaotics are immune to direct manipulation from other Chaotics of the same type, and as long as I’m within Austin’s simulation range, he has my type. Annoying… I can’t believe I let that catch me off guard. But there will be no more surprises! Mote then turned his attention to Sky, who was using her flames to propel herself through the air, straight toward him. After a quick glance to the side, Mote reached out with his hand toward Spike’s discarded shield from earlier and imparted a massive magnetic charge to it, at the same time that he gave his hand the opposite charge. The shield zipped through the air, reaching him just before Sky did; Mote grabbed the object out of the air and shoved it in Sky’s face while simultaneously charging it with just enough electricity to stun her. He then chucked the shield at Spike to force him to evade before launching himself into the air again, this time toward the half-court line.
As for the recruits, it’s just as I expected… Mote thought to himself as he glanced at Austin and Twy to his right, and Spike and Sky to his left. They aren’t coordinating at all. They’ll never win like this…
The sound of roaring flames and rushing water brought Mote back into the moment. From his right approached a massive wall of water; from his left, a wall of fire. Immediately, Mote magnetically launched himself into the air, clearing both elemental walls as they crashed into each other and exploded into a massive steam cloud. As he fell back to the ground, he couldn’t help but smirk; he wasn’t sure if either of the twins had actually planned to create a smokescreen, but it was nevertheless a useful play on their part. Too bad for them that I don’t have to rely on my eyes to see.
The moment Mote touched back down on the ground, he began focusing on the passive electrical fields around him. The human body generated a minute electrical field on its own — the nervous system worked through electrical pulses, after all — and Mote could sense those fields to determine the locations of other living beings around him. Through this sense, he quickly picked up on the fact that Spike was charging at him, and had actually managed to close to within several meters. Mote felt his body involuntarily tense; Spike was a formidable combatant in melee, not just because of his size or his super strength, but also because he had been formally trained through martial arts. None of the Eximius Vir had the luxury of melee training, aside from simple CQC taught by SERRCom instructors — so while Mote would never admit it out loud, he had no choice but to acknowledge that Spike could likely defeat him in a powerless melee fight.
But this battle wasn’t powerless, and neither was it restricted to melee.
Mote ducked backwards from Spike’s incoming fist, successfully dodging as he backed further into the steam cloud. He then moved to launch himself toward the far wall, but tripped as a tentacle of water slammed into his ankle. Caught by surprise, he tumbled to the ground and then continued rolling to evade Spike once more. Mote then leaped to his feet and launched himself at the ceiling, which he immediately clung to with his magnetism before turning to survey the room. The steam cloud was rapidly dissipating, allowing Mote to see the entire room again — as well as Twy and Sky launching themselves through the air at him using their respective elements. He prepared to drop to the ground to evade the twins, but just as he did so, he noticed Austin flying up at him from below. A pincer attack, huh? Finally, some sort of coordination! Mote then reached his arm out toward the shield from earlier that was still lying around, magnetically charging it to draw it toward him. He grabbed the shield out of the air, allowing its momentum to spin him around and knock away both Twy and Sky before thrusting the shield downward to block Austin — only to suddenly lose control of the shield as it zipped away lateral to his position.
Shit, Austin’s Imperator powers—! Mote scowled as Austin’s hand inched closer to his own, closing to within less than a meter. Recalling his earlier close call, Mote skipped trying to change Austin’s magnetic charge and instead applied opposing magnetic charges to himself and one of the far walls, causing him to zip out of Austin’s reach. The Electrotechnic caught himself against the wall and allowed himself to drop to the ground, easily catching himself with a single roll. Caught by surprise again, he thought bitterly as he turned back to face the action, damn it! I need to stop underestimating Austin—!
His thoughts were cut off as a large shield slammed into his chest like a giant metal frisbee and catapulted him across the room. With an irate scowl, Mote quickly recovered and jumped to his feet just in time to duck under a second airborne shield — and to see Spike charging straight toward him. Mote immediately imparted magnetic charges to both of the now-discarded shields and began manipulating them through the air, using his electromagnetic manipulation powers as a sort of telekinesis as he bashed the shields into Spike from afar to keep him away. Spike’s superior strength and durability allowed him to punch and tear the shields to pieces, but the distraction was enough to allow Mote to focus on Austin and Sky — with the former charging at him, and the latter standing farther back as she summoned a hail of fireballs and then launched them in Mote’s general direction.
The hail of fireballs presented little danger to Mote; he had more than enough time to evade, and even if he hadn’t, he had taken far more serious attacks to the face and walked it off. However one aspect of the situation stood out to him: Austin stood directly in the path of the fireballs. Shit. Sky’s getting carried away!
As the fireballs flew ever closer, Mote took a split second to analyze his options. He didn’t know the exact range of Austin’s Simulator powers, so attempting to magnetically repel him out of the path of the fireballs wasn’t guaranteed to work. Mote’s eyes then flicked over to Spike; he was a Forcetechnic, and Mote knew that Forcetechnics were far more durable than any other Chaotic. And since that increased durability was part of Forcetechnism itself, if Spike were to enter Austin’s simulation range, then Austin would passively pick up Spike’s increased durability and be able to survive a storm of fire. Spike himself seemed to have realized this and had pivoted to charge directly at Austin, but Mote could tell that he wouldn’t make it in time all on his own. This won’t be pretty, but there are few other options! As the fireballs approached to within a handful of meters of Austin, Mote acted to give the floor near Austin a north magnetic charge, and then apply a massive south charge to Spike, so as to yank Spike into Austin’s simulation range.
Only, Spike’s magnetic charge remained completely unchanged.
What the hell?! Mote reflexively scowled. I can’t alter Spike’s charge either? How does that—? Shit! In the split second between attempting his plan and failing, the fireballs were now nearly on top of Austin, who by now had realized the danger he was in and was attempting to flee in a panic. But Mote knew that it was too little, too late; Austin hadn’t yet had enough training to react to this kind of situation quickly enough to save himself. The Electrotechnic quickly crouched down and then launched himself forward in an effort to intercept the fireballs, but he was no Velocitechnic. The chances of him actually reaching Austin in time were practically nil. Damn it! I knew these damn recruits would be nothing but trouble—!
Just as the fireballs came close to licking the hairs on the back of Austin’s neck, however, they all fizzled away. Mote immediately drew back, confused, until he snapped his attention toward Mark at the side of the room — and the now-flipped CENT field activation switch. Ah, right! Good thinking, Mark!
“Time out!” Mark promptly shouted, drawing the confused attention of the four recruits. “Round over!”
“Aw, what?!” Sky exclaimed, “that wasn’t two minutes!”
“No, it wasn’t. And you have only yourself to blame for that,” Mote countered, his brow furrowed in frustration as he approached Austin to ensure that he was fine. Before he could properly check, however, the Psychotechnic had jumped to his feet and spun around to glare at his Pyrotechnic friend.
“The hell was that fireball shit?!” Austin shouted irately, “you almost fuckin’ incinerated me!”
“I—!” Sky drew back in surprise. “I… I totally had that under control!”
“I seriously doubt that,” Mote responded as he glanced around the room at each of Austin, Spike, Sky, and Twy. “You can’t get carried away. In a real-life battle, you could seriously injure yourself or an ally. Using high-power attacks is absolutely pointless if you can’t control them to ensure the safety of your allies.”
“You’re the one who said we should use our powers!”
“I also told you to maintain restraint. Which you most certainly were not doing.”
“Sky, cut it out,” Twy interjected. “You almost seriously injured Austin. You could have even killed him!”
“That’s…” Sky glanced uneasily between Twy, Austin, and Mote, who all regarded her with varying levels of irritation. “…Okay. Fine. You’re right… I’m sorry, Austin.”
“Just don’t let it happen again,” Austin replied. He then gingerly patted the back of his neck. “…Oof, I feel like I can still feel the heat. That was way too close…”
“I’ll say.” Mote sighed. “If only the lot of you were more capable Chaotics, then this never would have happened.”
“We can’t get better without trainin’ first,” Spike pointed out. “We are still new at this. I don’t think you should blame anyone just yet.”
“You’re right, you all are still incredibly new, and it shows. All four of you have contributed to loosing marks in this mock battle.”
“I bet Sky’s getting an F,” Austin retorted.
“Hey, I apologized!” Sky shot back.
“Let’s all settle down, now…” Twy addressed her friends, and then turned toward Mote. “So… how did we do?”
Mote sighed wearily as he raised a hand to massage his temples. He gestured for everyone to get closer so that he wouldn’t have to shout over half a basketball court and then replied, “I’d give that performance a D.”
“A what?!” Austin exclaimed incredulously.
“Yeah, we didn’t do that bad,” Spike insisted, “aside from what Sky did, I guess. We could totally have followed up to that, anyways. Twy and I were about to corner you!”
“You really weren’t,” Mote countered. “Spike, you were already too far away to do anything to me. Furthermore, if I didn’t have to be concerned about Austin’s safety, then I could easily have escaped Sky’s haphazard storm of fireballs. But that isn’t all; you all started the round on the wrong foot. I didn’t see any signs of teamwork until that steam cloud.” He turned toward the twins. “Was that intentional?”
“Yes,” Twy replied with a nod.
“Nope!” Sky responded with a shake of her head, at the same time as Twy. She and Twy then exchanged a glance; Sky’s of surprise, and Twy’s of irritation.
Mote simply sighed again. “I wondered as much. Now, I will admit — there were the beginnings of some teamwork in the actions you all took. But I want you all to think about it more, and I especially want you all to be aware of your surroundings when you put any plans you come up with into effect.” He then turned to Spike. “That said, you’ve got a point to learn all on your own.”
“Huh?” Spike frowned in confusion — and then jumped in surprise as Mote grabbed Spike’s shield and magnetically ripped it out of his hands.
“When you fight another Chaotic, you must always keep in mind their ability when you decide what to do,” Mote declared, before charging the shield and launching it across the room at Mark, who caught it easily. “The shields you fabricated — while they may have benefited you at first, they all became far more useful to me for most of the battle. Without them, I would’ve had a more difficult time escaping your attacks.”
“Oh… right. I see…”
“Wait, question!” Austin raised his hand to gain Mote’s attention, and then planted his hands on his hips in frustration. “The hell was that just now? The CENT fields are up, ain’t they? How the hell can you still use your powers when we can’t?”
“That question is immaterial to your training,” Mote replied. “Don’t distract yourself from improving yourself. We still aren’t done with today’s training.”
“Oh yeah? Well what’s next, then?” Sky questioned. “Are you gonna have us play keep away again?”
“Yes, in fact, I am,” Mote shot back. “We’ll keep doing this until either an hour passes, or you manage to actually win.” He scowled as he noted each of the recruits react with groans, sighs, or eye rolls. “Just for that, we’ll be going for two hours. Now line up at the far side of the room! Spike, you see that switch for the CENT field? Flip it! We begin again on my mark!”
“Fuckin’ slave driver…” Austin muttered as he trudged to the far side along with the others.
Mote simply watched them impatiently before glancing down at his hand. With little effort, he generated a number of small sparks across his fingertips — and then generated a larger, single spark just as Spike flipped the switch to deactivate the room’s CENT fields. …Why CAN I use my powers in a CENT field? he wondered to himself, and not just me, but Mark, and Danielle, and Kate as well. What exactly is going on there…? He shook his head to clear his thoughts and returned his attention to the recruits, but just as he was about to address them, Mark approached him.
“Mote, we’ve got a problem,” he whispered.
“What?” Mote responded in a low voice, “what is it? Can it wait until we’re done here?”
“Not really, no. I just got word from Danielle…” Mark glanced at the recruits before turning back to Mote, his expression one of concern. “There’s just been an attack on a SERRCom facility.”