21. Different Mind
Walter must have had enough of watching Squadron 3 stumbling around and trying to hit each other, because he opens after the break by teaching them some actual techniques. There are a variety of stances, punches, chops, blocks, and kicks; all of them originate from a different form of martial arts, and they all have to be executed in a certain manner, lest you reveal a weak spot to your enemy. And all of it is extraordinarily boring…at least, it is to Lai.
She knows all of this already. It’s been remotely inserted into her mind, and unlike some people, she’s not having any trouble getting her body and brain to coordinate with each other. She doesn’t need to know the name of a move in order to use it. Whenever Walter prompts, “Now, try this!” she gives him a passing performance on her first attempt. The apathy on her face is as unsubtle as ever.
At long last, they are allowed to break formation as Ema and Les begin randomly selecting pairs again. Lai is itching to get back into the thick of the sparring, and this time she is partnered with…Alec.
Oh, this should be fun…
Alec is one of the only imps (besides her) who came out on top in all of his morning spars. If her superiors wanted to pit her against someone who might be challenging to defeat, they’ve made a decent choice. If they wanted to rile her up into a state of high aggression, they’ve made an ideal one.
“I will never divulge such information to an irresponsible, scatter-brained, foolish young woman such as you…”
Well, we’ll see who’s the fool now, Mr. Know-It-All.
“I suppose you are to be my partner, then,” says Alec contemptuously, peering over the tip of his nose at her. His broken eye sputters in its socket, starkly contrasting the rest of his stock-still body.
Lai presses her lips together. “Mm-hmm.” She’s simmering internally, but her expression is locked in its usual disinterested glare, detached disdain with just a touch more ice than usual.
“I have heard that you professed an unusual display of skill this morning.”
“Oh?” she inquires lightly. “Well, maybe that was just luck.” She sweeps her arms and legs into a balanced stance. “Want to find out?”
“Affirmative.” He mirrors her position flawlessly, as if proving that he can pull it off better. She guess that he will likely be allowing her to set the pace and tone of the fight. Normally this is a smart strategy, but this time he’s going to find himself having a hard time keeping up.
Her fist moves towards his stomach, slowly and obviously, and he promptly raises his palm to deflect the blow. Exactly what she needed, as it gives her enough leverage to jab her foot against his outer thigh. The solid metal of her leg guard is enough to make him stumble, at least, and she wrenches herself free of his grasp while knocking him off balance in the process. He thrusts his arms out to the sides to steady himself, and she lifts her leg higher, striking him squarely in the chest while his hands are unable to grab her.
That’s what she thinks, anyway, until an ironclad grip wraps itself around her ankle. “Hey!” she exclaims, struggling to support herself on one wobbling foot. Alec has recovered from his brief bout of imbalance and appears unfazed by her hits. For the first time, it dawns on her what being an android really means: beneath his outwardly normal flesh, there are no easily damaged tissues or nerves that might serve to hinder him. The unyielding metal under his skin must be giving him virtually unlimited pain tolerance and stamina. His broken left eye seems to wink at her, as if confirming her theories.
No fair!, she almost shouts, but then she remembers something from Walter’s boring lessons. He’s been preaching to them that warisn’tfair, and if you encounter an obstacle, then you have to use what you have to get around it. She can still beat Alec, even if he has the nerve endings of a robot.
It will just be a little harder than she thought, that’s all.
“Have you not been warned against using your feet too often in combat scenarios?” he asks coolly.
Lai pushes her lips outwards in a pout. Yes, she can recall something about using kicks as a last resort from Walter’s boring speech, but she has so much more strength in her legs than she does in her tiny hands. He should have justmentionedthat she might end up in this awkward scenario, with one limb restrained and the other inaccessible. However, at least fifty percent of her body is still free, so…
“You’re right, Alec. I’ll be sure to use my hands more from now on.” With that, her fist smashes against the side of his neck. His eye widens at this attack on a more vulnerable area of his person, and his fingers loosen a notch – an increment just wide enough for her to wrench her slender ankle from his grasp as she throws herself low to the ground.
In another moment, she is back on her feet, her quickened respiratory rate the only indicator that she wasn’t standing there the whole time. She and Alec turn to each other, faces pressed into identical expressions of forced apathy.
If she can’t wear him down physically, she’ll wear him down mentally, whether he thinks he’s impervious to it or not…