When we got to the station we were split into 3 groups, which seemed to be based on age. There were 10 of us in my group: Myself, Nturan, Chauffer, Rioj, Chianti, Nancy, the french girl, one of the english boys, the grumpy-looking australian boy and the spanish girl. I was extremely happy with this group.
The age ranged from 12 to 20, which was a pretty big gap, though most of us were between 16 and 19. The grumpy looking australian boy was 19. We were shown to our dorms, which were unisex, and told to put our stuff into the drawers next to our beds and put on the clothes in the top drawer of the chest. They were going to assess out fitness first.
This felt very real now, being told by a huge scary officer where to go and what to do. He was honestly terrifying. I got bottom bunk closest to the door again, and Nturan bunked in the bed next to me, Nancy above me, and Chauffer above Nturan. Chianti and Rioj took the bunks opposite us across the isle. One bunk was empty.
The clothes we had to wear gave us a choice: Short sleeved black top, trainers and burgundy jogging trousers, or short sleeved black top, trainers and burgundy short shorts. I went for the joggers. Chauffer jokingly put on the short shorts and danced around sexily. It was quite some sight. The english boy and the grumpy australian had bunked together and both looked proper fit in their tops and joggers. The french and spanish girl had bunked together and were speaking in quiet italian to each other. Show-offs.
We walked down to the main arena of this station, there were a few smaller ones scattered around, but this main one was massive. There was a huge running track scoring the perimeter, and it the space enclosed there was shooting and archery and 3 wrestling mats and weights machines and cross-trainers and high and long jumps and everything sporty under the sun. The walls were pale blue like an overcast scottish day and they reminded me of home. We filed into the middle area where there was a space. The scary officer man was standing there with a clipboard.
"We will be assessing you now on your physical fitness and sporting aptitude. Do well, and it may do big things for you in this establishment. Do badly, and you will be another grunt working on the less-exciting stuff, and nobody wants that. Do whatever sport you want, no matter if you're good or bad at it. As well as aptitude and skill we will also be looking for determination and the ability to improve. Myself and Mr Grigori," He motioned to a tall, thin post of a man next to him "will be evaluating you. You may start now."
Nturan and I immediately headed for the shooting range. Might as well start with what I' good at. I've no idea why Nturan's over here.
I shot 6 times. 3 headshots, 2 chestshots, one shoulder shot. Piss it. I shot the heart again.
I backed up 2 paces and shot again. 2 headshots.
Backed up. 2 headshots.
Backed up. Headshot, chestshot.
Backed into something. I turned to see the huge, scary guy. His badge named him Keruan. I resolved to call him sir.
"Sorry, Sir." I backed away from him a little.
"That was extremely impressive. Name?"
"Kira Dowell." He nodded and wrote something on his clipboard.
"And your friend there?" He waved the end of his pen at Nturan.
"Nturan.. er... I don't know. Nturan something, sir." Keruan chuckled.
"Nturan Blakely. He's doig alright at that."
"It's not exactly his strong suit, sir." I bowed slightly and turned. I was in the mood for running.
I decided to run as many times round the track as I could at full pelt. It got to lap 3 and my legs were burning and my lungs screaming, but I didn't stop. I fell in lap 5, but got up and managed to get to lap 7 before I collapsed. It was 400m circuit. 2800m. That wasn't bad.
Big scary guy blocked out the overwhelmingly bright lights above me, and held out a water-bottle.
"I guess you didn't find yours at the door." I sat up, took it gladly and drank and spluttered a bit. My heart had never beat so fast. "How many laps was that?"
"Seven at my count, Sir." He nodded and walked off again. I lay back down, occasionally lifting my head up to drink. I stayed down for 5 minutes, then I was up and raring to go again. I shot a few arrows, splitting one of the arrows in half with another which I've only ever done once before. I was proud. I then did some situps until the less scary tall thin man called us over.
"You've all done very well in this first half," he said in an infuriatingly tinny voice, "But now it's time to take a wee break. You may visit the loo, or get some more water, whatever as long as you use this time to rest. Meet back here in 15 minutes. Dismissed."
I went and sat by the wall. Nturan joined me.
"How's it going?" I asked.
"Ugh, I hurt everywhere. I did jogging, nice steady pace for 35 laps and it hurt so much. I think it impressed them though."
"It better've! That's over 12k, that's great!"
"Mm, I;ve done better. I once ran a half-marathon, you know. Back when I gave more craps. Now I'm starting to regret letting myself go so much."
"You've hardly let yourself go. How did shooting go?"
"Out of 15 shots I got 7 kill-shots, so I'm quite proud. The rest were at least on the body, mostly the shoulder."
"That's amazing, well done."
Grumpy australian guy loomed over us, then sat down with his back against the wall next to me.
"Nice shooting." He said.
"Thanks, I hadn't realised anyone was watching." He rested his head against the wall.
"I only caught the tail end. A lot of headshots there. By the way, your face is literally the funniest thing I've ever seen when you run." He said this without the hint of a smile.
He offered me his hand.
He got up in one swift movement and walked quickly across the room to the english guy who'd just walked back in with full water-bottles.
I watched him walk over and didn't notice Nturan inch his face closer to mine carefully. Adoni looked back at me just as I noticed Nturans eyes right next to my face and gasped and laughed and hit him. Adoni looked amused but sad and turned back to his conversation with english guy.
Nturan and I sat and joked around with Chauffer who'd been filling up the water-bottles until less-scary-pale man called us up again.
"The assessment will now continue, please do not forget to stretch. Dismissed." Very irritating voice indeed.
I went on the weights machines and was able to see how the other were doing. Rioj was climbing all over the place, his tiny, nimble frame practically in the rafters. Chianti was doing archery. She was reasonably good. Chauffer was running and looked pretty happy about it. Adoni and english guy were throwing each other around the wrestling mat. Adoni seemed to be winning. He definitely looked strong. I dragged Nturan over to the other mat to wrestle. I'd been pretty good at it in the arena at school. I'd taken down Fat Joe one time. That was a great day.
Nturan looked a little scared to hurt me, so I made the first move and tackled his legs. I climbed on top of him and straddled him, pinning his arms down. I counted to 10 while he tried to throw me off. He failed, I won.
"Best of 3?" He asked.
I obliged. I beat him again, though there was more of a fight this time. He wasn't used to fighting though, whereas I'd gone to the arena at school every day since I knew it existed because it made me feel strong right in the middle of the place where I was weakest.
Keruan was watching us and Adoni and the english boy fight. After I won the fight with Nturan he called the others to stop.
"Morcant, I want you to fight Kira. You other two, just watch." The english boy walked to the opposite end of the mat. He was huge. I could use that against him. And I did.
The fight ended after some time with him on his front, his left arm carefully twisted behind him by me. He kicked my back several times, hard, but I kept him down the full 10 counts.
"Morcant, fight Nturan. Kira, fight Adoni."
This was a big fight. I'd seen Adoni take Morcant out several times, and he'd been hard to beat. Adoni would be something else.
He and I stood at opposite ends of the mat. I was still sweating from the fight with Morcant, which put me at a disadvantage.
I'd seen Adoni fight. I knew he didn't like to make the first move. So I pretended that I would, and I aimed for his face, ducking out at the last second. He reached to stop my hand, but I'd moved it from where he expected and left him confused. I used the momentum of the false punch to drive me into a roundhouse kick. My bare foot (we don't wear shoes on the mats) collided with his temple and he stumbled. He wasn't at all down though. But I had made us equal now, levelled the playing field.
The fight continued in an odd dance, once he got on my back and started counting but I gave him a swift and very well aimed kick in the balls and then elbowed him in the face and scrambled up. This put him on the floor, so I jumped on his back and knocked him down. I used the same hold I had for Morcant to keep him down, and it was effective. I won the fight.
I won the fight.
I beat Adoni.
Have you seen him?
And I beat him.
I got off him, adrenaline pouring out of me. He got to his feet. I held out my hand. He shook it. I slowly realised that everyone had gathered round us. Everyone had seen me beat this guy who was twice my size, 2 years older, and 6 inches taller at least. I felt stronger than ever before.
People started to dissipate.
"You know, if you hadn't had the same weakness as all men, you would've beaten me in half the time it took for me to beat you." I said.
Adoni looked at me. He looked kind of angry.
"What weakness do all men share?"
"You know, sensitive privates."
"Oh, I thought you were going to make some kind of sexist generalisation and I was ready to go apeshit on you." He looked embarassed. That was it. That's what made him look angry. Maybe he'd never lost a fight before.
"So how does it feel to have been beaten by a girl, Adoni?" The french girl mocked.
"Same way it feels to be beaten by anyone, Desiree. Humiliating and tear-inducing." He grinned at me. First time I'd seen him properly smile.
The french girl, Desiree, stalked past me, knocking into my shoulder quite hard. I think Chauffer said she was 19 in a couple of weeks. It'd be weird for her, having her birthday miles and miles above home. I'd've felt sorry for her if it weren't for the fact that she left a bruise on my arm.
Adoni walked away and left me with Keruan, who rained praise on me and told me I was the best all-rounder he had ever seen. He told me I could take it easy, maybe do some light jogging. I obliged and got 7 laps in before he told us our assessment was over and we could leave. He'd put up a scoreboard of our achievements and rank later that night, and tomorrow we'd have our minds assessed. For now, we were free.
I walked along with Nturan, Nancy and Chauffer. Nancy kept congratulating me and saying she was so sure I'd be ranked first. Apparently they only do the first 5 places, because after that there's no point. The competitive side in me had risen up and I was desperate to be in the top 3. I didn't mind losing to Adoni and Morcant, but I couldn't stand the idea of being behind anyone else.
We ate supper, which was chicken, bread and broccoli. It was pretty good. Nturan and I then found a quiet place to sit and just be. The others seemed to want to talk, so they went off with Chianti and Rioj in tow.
Nturan and I sat on this big suede sofa, and eventually I ended up with my head on his chest and his arms round me. I'm not quite sure how it happened. We stayed like that for about half an hour until the stresses of being around people had faded, then we left silently for our separate dorms, not bothering to look at the rank board in the food hall.
Nancy gave me the rank, excitedly from bottom to top.
I tried to be exited, but I was so tired. She told me that aside from ranks there'd been other methods of appreciation, such as Rioj who got 'most unexpected talent' and herself who got 'able to lift triple his/her own weight'. She seemed very please about this. I noticed she was wearing her head-scarf again but I was too tired to ask about it, so I told her I had to sleep. She said okay but seemed a little hesitant about going to bed.
I slept very easily that night.