All three teams somehow survived the mind-numbing classes we had been assigned to, and now we were rewarded. I’m not sure what goes through your head when you think of an obstacle course, but let me tell you how the Order does things. Obstacle courses are broken into two parts: the physical agility phase, and the reactionary phase. The agility is a standard, run-of-the-mill course like the military used to use during boot camp or basic training. Climbing wall, cargo net, some running, some crawling…you know, all that good stuff. Due to the Order wanting to keep our locations somewhat secret and private, all our training is done indoors. While it might seem like having training indoors would suck, you have to understand that our bases are huge and we have top-of-the-line tech. That’s where the reactionary phase comes in.
The agility phase was a course that each operative ran solo; no surprises, no team work, just you and the course. The reactionary phase took advantage of the size of our facilities, virtual reality technology, and the fact that we work in teams. When everyone had finished the agility phase, we would form into our respective teams, throw on the VR goggles, and hit the course. We would be given an objective (a location at the other end of the facility), and we would be given tech-sensitive batons to simulate our blades. Once we had been prepped, we would begin making our way to the objective. The course would create virtual enemies for us to combat during the course, and we would be timed on how fast we could work our way through various situations and scenarios.
When the agility phase of our run was over, my team was first to hit the reactionary phase. The course instructor gave us our goggles and our batons while barking out the scenario.
“Alright, the three of you have walked into a structurally unstable building, and you are in search of an informant who is trapped in a room on the other side. The informant is being held for ransom by a violent street gang in Malaysia, who are known for their brutality and frequent use of amphetamine-hallucinogenic drugs. They will be hostile, they will be somewhat unpredictable. They will be armed, and you must reach the target before they decide to kill him. Your time starts as soon as you walk through the door.”
We stacked up outside the door. In one fluid motion, we all began to move. Dianna kicked the door off its hinges and swung right into the room; Ricky was right behind her and moved to the left, while I marched straight down the center. No hostiles were detected, but we ran into an issue we did not expect: not only was the building creaking and shaking like it was going to collapse, but it was filled with smoke. Before moving through the next door, we briefly huddled up and formulated a plan.
“Okay, I think through the next door is a hallway. It appears that we are in a hotel or a run-down apartment complex. We’re probably going to have rooms on either side of us. Dianna, you clear the rooms to the left, Ricky you’re on the right. We clear one room at a time, in case we find more than we can handle holed up in one room. Clear?”
They nodded vigorously and we all bumped forearms. We charged through the door and into the hallway with our blades at the ready. My assumptions were correct; we were in an old hotel, with rows of rooms on both sides. This actually made clearing the building much easier, as we could see the entire room from one or two steps inside. We swiftly worked our way down the hall, finding no opposition in any of the first six rooms. When Dianna went to open the seventh door, it flew open and a bald man with a machete came running out, screaming at the top of his lungs. Without thinking, Dianna cut the guy in half and we crept forward.
It seemed like in the split second between breaths, our situation went from easy and clean to FUBAR. All of the sudden, the smoke intensified, and dozens of gang members poured into the hallway. It would have been manageable if not for two things: first, most of them had guns, and in a confined space like a hallway, that becomes very dangerous. Second, they appeared so quickly, that within a few seconds, they had separated and isolated all three of us.
When I realized all of this, I shouted out to Ricky. I wanted to get an idea of where he was and make sure he was handling himself alright.
“RICKY! Let me hear the crackle, buddy!”
In a room off to my right, I heard Ricky yell “WOO-HOO!” and then a loud, electrical buzz. That let me know he was fine for the moment. As long as he was conscious, he could hold his own. As a spark, he could light up anyone like a Christmas tree who was within a five foot radius. The person I was most concerned about was Dianna. She was an excellent fighter, but being swarmed like we were, she was bound to have some trouble. Her gifts were much better suited to stealth and escape. Dianna was a fader and a shifter. Being able to teleport around a room or look like someone else is all fine and dandy, but neither of those abilities comes in very handy during a combat situation.
I could hear her grunting and yelling from a room a little ways down the hall, so I cleared myself a hole. I swung both of my blades out in front of me, and using my gift, I shot a stream of flame that stretched out four feet in front of me. I swung and hacked my way with my blazing blades to where I heard Dianna’s voice. When I walked in, she was surrounded, but to her credit, she was handling herself just fine. Like I said before, she was a great fighter. She had found ways to improve her technique and speed to make up for not having an aggressive gift.
I stepped in to help her and when we had cleared the room, we found Ricky finishing off the last opponent in the hallway. As soon as he did, there was a loud, metallic THUD, and the sound of hundreds of pairs of feet rushing towards us from around the corner ahead. Ricky swore and I hung my head for a moment, mentally preparing myself for the onslaught. As we braced ourselves for the attack, Dianna yelled, “Wait!”
We only had a few moments before the crowd of simulated gang bangers was on top of us, so she spoke fast.
“This is a leveled simulation. If we waste our time killing every single enemy, the next wave will simply keep on coming until we are overwhelmed. Don’t bother stopping. You two should run in front clearing a path to the target, and I’ll cover your backs. Then, when we reach the target, the course will either be over, or we will have found a defensible place to hole up until we beat them all.”
Ricky laughed as his blades crackled with electricity. “Damn, girl; pretty AND smart? That’s the whole package right there.”
With that, I lit my blades again and we charged our way through the next wave of attackers. Without stopping, we simply cut, shocked, and burned our way through the seemingly endless crowd. After several minutes, however, we reached our door. We flew right through it, and suddenly we were in the training hangar again.
Standing at a series of monitors in front of us was the course instructor, beaming from ear to ear as he stared at us where we fell.
“Congratulations, team; you have successfully completed the course. An extra congratulations goes out to Ms. Alvarez for not only recognizing the use of leveled game theory, but also for noting that reaching the target was of higher priority than eliminating the enemy. Flying colors, Team 1. Outstanding.”
When he had finished, we turned in our gear, and we were escorted back to the rec area next to the training hangar. Within about an hour, both of the other teams had successfully completed the course and Tragedy met with all of us as a group.
“Good work, Teams. You have all passed your obstacle course training successfully. Now you may head back to your quarters for the night. We will resume tomorrow with a training exercise involving sword-to-sword combat.”
Somewhat puzzled, we made our way back to our rooms. We didn’t usually have to fight anyone armed with a sword. Most of the people we fought had guns, actually. Tragedy had left right after making that announcement, so the only thing we could do was head back to our quarters and speculate on what the next morning held in store for us.
I awoke to the sound of my phone ringing.
“Blaise, it’s Tragedy. We are going to have to postpone your training for the day. Something has come up, and I need to see both you and Wade in my office as soon as possible.”
“Yeah, sure; just let me get ready real quick. What happened?”
“We’ve lost contact with Team 4. I will give you all the details when you get here; I just need you to get down to my office as quickly as you can.”
With that, she hung up.
I promptly hopped out of bed and made myself presentable, and rushed out my door. I met Wade in the hallway, who was pulling his shirt over his head as he stepped into the hall.
“Hey, did she tell you what all this is about?”
“She told me that we’ve lost contact with Team 4, but that’s all she would say over the phone.”
“Well, that’s not good. Where are they stationed?”
“I don’t have a clue. Last I heard, they were headed out on an assignment in Chicago.”
Grunting at my response, Wade broke into a run. Something about Team 4 being in Chicago seemed to concern him. As far as I knew, Chicago wasn’t such a bad place anymore. I mean, sure, the mafia had gotten more involved in recent years, but it wasn’t an exceptionally violent place or anything. I started running after him, and we raced the rest of the way to Tragedy’s office.
When we burst through her office door, Tragedy was pacing behind her desk. She paused where she stood and collected herself before sitting down in her chair and saying, “Gentlemen, please take a seat.”
As we sank into our chairs, she continued, “As I told Blaise earlier, we have lost contact with Team 4. They were on assignment in Chicago, bringing in a corporate executive who we discovered was also a high-level accountant for the Mafia. He was helping them to balance their books, launder their money, and he was running an extortion and insurance scam for them on some of the local politicians.
“We sent Team 4 in to bring him in two weeks ago. They were supposed to bring him in, in the hopes that we could flip him. With his position in Chicago, the Order decided that he could be a valuable asset. Our last contact with Team 4 was five days ago. As you know, team leaders are supposed to call with status updates every other day. I was willing to accept that the situation may have gotten complicated, so I overlooked this breach in protocol. However, after almost a week with no contact, I am beginning to worry about Team 4.
“Blaise, I want you to take your team and finish the operation. The subject’s name is Robert Church. Considering the circumstances, he will probably be expecting you. I believe it is safe to assume he will be holed up in his high-rise with a fair amount of firepower protecting him 24/7.
“Wade, I want you to take your team to Chicago and look for any signs of Team 4. Use your connections there and see if you can figure out what happened to them. Best case scenario, their equipment was damaged during the operation and they are on their way back to base. Worst case scenario, they have been killed or captured, and we need to retrieve their equipment before it falls into the wrong hands.”
I nodded as I absorbed the information. Wade, however, had a question almost immediately.
“So, is this why we were supposed to have that swordplay training?”
Tragedy sighed and replied, “To an extent, yes. When we first lost contact with them, I realized that if the criminal underworld ever got ahold of some Valkyrie blades, our operatives needed to be prepared. At the time, I was hoping that Team 4 was simply too busy to call as scheduled. Now it seems this may already be a real danger.”
“So basically what you’re telling us is the people we’re about to fight might have a few pairs of blades? Why should we even be concerned? They can’t take us out with guns, what makes you think they would be any more dangerous with a hand-to-hand weapon?”
“Well, it’s not necessarily the weapon that makes the soldier. That doesn’t change the fact that we still need to recover those blades. I would rather have them in our possession than floating around out there in untrained hands.”
“Fair enough; when do we ship out?”
“Right now. Gather your teams and get busy. Contact me when you make it to Chicago.”