‘I’m not going to hit you.’
Ryan gave her a dad!face look. ‘Stef.’
Stef lifted her arms and shook them. ‘I have tiny, girly, hacker arms, I can’t hit anything.’
Ryan continued his implacable look. ‘Consider it an order.’
‘I’m not a recruit anymore, you can’t give me orders!’
‘I’m still your superior officer.’
She balled her hands into fists. ‘I don’t want to hit you.’
‘You can’t hurt me.’
She threw a punch, and it hit him in the chest, but it barely crumpled his suit.
Well, at least you technically hit him.
‘All right, good,’ he said. ‘Now I’m going to hit you.’
His fist flew through the air, aiming for her head. She braced herself for the punch, and- She stepped sideways, out of the path of the blow. ‘Good,’ he said. She shrugged. ‘Hit me again,’ he said.
She hit him again, this time managing to push his tie to the side, by an inch.
He punched her again, but she avoided this blow as well. ‘I guess some ballet stuck with me,’ she said.
Spyder, I’m not sure it’s you.
What do you mean?
I don’t know. Let’s see what happens.
‘Try kicking me this time,’ he said.
She kicked him, hard, in the shin, and he nodded.
He kicked, trying to sweep her feet out from under her. She prepared herself to land on the ground, to have the indignity of a sore butt, but instead watched herself jump to avoid his kick.
I think you’re right.
He punched her again, and this time the blow landed solidly on her chest. Her hand snapped out, returning the hit, a lot harder than her previous hits had been – pushing him back, rather than just knocking his tie out of position.
Another two punches came, but she blocked each of them. A kick had her on the ground, but before she had time to consider her rear, she was on her feet again, circling him to avoid the next hit.
He disappeared from in front of her, and grabbed her from behind.
Her hands moved of their own accord, grabbing him and pulling him over her shoulder. He landed heavily on the ground, then stood and brushed himself off with a smile. ‘Good.’
She collapsed to the ground, staring up at him. ‘What…what in twelve levels of fuck was that?’ He offered a hand to her, but she batted it away. ‘No seriously,’ she whispered, ‘what was that?’
He crouched in front of her. ‘What do you think it was?’
She stared at the floor for a moment, trying to get her breath back. ‘It’s defensive training, that’s blindingly obvious,’ she said. ‘But I didn’t do any of that. I wasn’t in control.’ She thought about it for another few seconds. ‘It was unconscious. And oh dear god it was creepy. Please don’t make me do that again, I like to be in control of my body.’
‘Unfortunately,’ he said, ‘it’s how your combat training will have to remain for the moment. It’s all reflexive.’
‘So basically, it’s not so much “I know kung-fu” as “my body knows kung-fu”.’
He held up his hand and something black and twisted appeared there – something that looked like a piece of licorice. ‘Here,’ he said, ‘bend this.’
She took it, and easily bent it into a horseshoe. ‘And that proves what?’ she asked.
‘Stef, that was a piece of steel.’
She looked at the piece of definitely-not-licorice in her hands. ‘Oh.’
He held up his palm. ‘Here, hit me.’
She curled her hand into a fist and hit him – his palm barely moved. ‘I don’t get it,’ she said.
He took the horseshoe. ‘I tripped your strength controls so that you were in charge for this, but not the punch.’
‘Blah blah, I don’t know my own strength, blah?’
‘I don’t want you to accidentally kill someone.’
‘How about accidentally-on-purpose?’
‘Not that either,’ he said as he stood, offering a hand to her again. ‘Give it a year, or two, or three, learn how to manage your strength, and we’ll take off your limiters. You’ll never be as strong as a full agent, but that’s just part of the parameters of your project, but you’ll be stronger than a lot of humans.’
‘Not sure I’ll be good at that.’
He gave her a pat on the head. ‘You’re immortal, you’ve got time to get used to it.’
‘It’s still weird not to be in control,’ she said. ‘I mean, does that happen to you?’
‘There are certain protocols, certain scenarios, where an agent, any agent will lose control of their body. That…survival instincts will take over and our rational mind has to take a backseat.’
There was something in his tone, something that asked her not to ask anything further.
‘So what next?’ she asked. ‘More of this?’
‘Another hour,’ he said. ‘Then you can have a break, if you promise to read through more of the files I’ve set aside for you.’
‘That really isn’t a break.’
‘Do your study, run two or three scenarios with Curt, and if you do that, I’ll let you go play with the techs tonight. Jones said there was a…’
‘Yes, that. And that you were welcome to join.’
‘He didn’t invite me.’
‘This your first week, you aren’t supposed to have any free time.’
‘Then I guess I should say thank you,’ she said with a grin.
‘Yes, and also, dodge this,’ he said as he threw another punch.