Sweat poured down Michael’s head as he set down his water bottle and prepared to continue sparring. He cracked his knuckles and got into a fighter’s stance. The doors at the other end of the arena opened, and out came three burly, mean-looking men and one normal-looking teenager. The first three were clad in workout clothes, similar to Michael, but about four sizes larger. The fourth one was wearing nice clothes. He had a red shirt with three buttons near the neck, all unbuttoned, and had a white undershirt underneath. He also had khakis on. He looked like an uncomfortable kid at a wedding. Michael immediately dismissed him as a threat. One hit and he would go down. But he still had to deal with three grown men.
Now, Michael was strong, but he wasn’t huge. No one really understood it, but through sheer determination Michael managed to defeat grown men who were stronger and had more experience than him. Still, he felt that four-on-one was a little unfair, even if one of them was a well-dressed teenager. He looked them over as they slowly approached him and concluded that the second man was the leader of the pack. Or, at the very least, he was the tallest and burliest of the four. The two on either side were about the normal size of men Michael was used to fighting. Michael focused on #2 and started toward him. If he could take the leader out, Michael knew the others would hesitate to attack. Michael knew that fear was a powerful weapon.
As Michael was walking toward the leader, the four separated. They stood about four or five feet away from each other.
Wow, Michael thought, they’re making this too easy. He could easily land a couple hits on the leader before the two next to him could come to his aid. He smiled, confident that he would win.
The leader, seeing Michael’s cockiness, arched his eyebrows and frowned disapprovingly. Michael decided that it would be better to get in the first hit, and so took matters into his own hands. He leapt forward and tackled the burly dude, using his momentum to get his victim off-balance. The big guy managed to stay on his feet, but his surprise was evident as he stared, gaping, at the fifteen-year-old who was stupid enough to think he could beat him.
He recovered quickly and swung his right fist at Michael’s face, but Michael had already jumped off and was punching the big guy in the chest. He felt a rib break under the sheer force of the blow and the leader fell to his knees. Michael was about to administer the final blow to make sure the leader didn’t try to resume the fight when the two brutes closest to him attacked.
Michael saw movement in the corners of his eyes and, not a moment too soon, ducked. Unfortunately for Michael, four or five feet was not enough room for them to build up adequate speed, making it easy for them to stop themselves from tripping over Michael. Fortunately for Michael, this distracted them long enough for him to jab at the one on his right side. Michael, seeing that he was outnumbered, took a couple of steps back and prepared to go three-on-one.
But something was bugging him. He felt as if he was forgetting something.
Nonetheless, the two cronies advanced towards him, forcing him to ignore the problem for the time being. The one on the left was the closest, as the one on the right was clutching his arm. Michael feinted towards the left one’s face and then kicked him in the shin. The fiend instinctively raised his arms to protect his face and faced the consequence. He yelped like a hurt puppy and started jumping up and down, clutching his leg. The right one tried to tackle Michael while he was occupied with his comrade, but to no avail. Michael sidestepped and watched the goon face-plant onto the ground in between Michael and the other two.
The other two… Again, Michael felt as if he was missing a vital piece of information.
However, before he could do anything, the leader started to stand. He was hunched over a bit, as he was injured, but he was angry. And Michael knew that anger could make one reckless. So Michael decided to milk it for all it was worth. He smiled innocently at the huge figure and said, “Are you okay? It looks like you got a little booboo.” Michael then made his face look as if he was trying to keep himself from laughing, but couldn’t control himself and started snickering at his own joke.
The leader’s face became red with anger. He had been humiliated by a mere boy. He started to charge at the fifteen-year-old, but a flicker of movement behind the boy made him stop. Michael, sure that his plan would work, was utterly confused. He tried to look behind him, to see what had stopped the charge, when he felt a sharp pang in his neck. He looked down, and, cursing, spotted a dagger being held against his neck.
A young, tight voice said, clearly and deliberately, “Don’t make any movement that you were not told to do. You will kneel down and put your hands on your head. You may look at my arm and think that you can overpower me, which you most definitely can, but I assure you that I will be much faster. Say that you understand and I will take the knife off of your neck. But just because it’s not on your neck doesn’t mean it can’t kill you.”
Crap. The fourth person. Michael remembered now. He had immediately dismissed him and now he was paying the price of underestimating an opponent. He had no doubt that what the new threat had said was true. He responded in a defeated tone, “I understand.” Michael followed the instructions and started to kneel down. He looked up at the one whom he had thought to be the leader and tried for a winning smile. “No hard feelings, right?”
Suddenly, the knife was back on his throat. “That’s curious. I don’t remember telling you to do that.”
“That’s enough.” The voice echoed through the arena.
The grip on the knife loosened, but stayed where it was.
“That’s curious. I thought I said that that’s enough.”
The knife clattered to the floor and the boy hastily tried to apologize for his error.
“Silence, Alex. We can, and will, talk later. For now, however, I wish to speak with Michael.”
Michael regained his footing and replied coolly, “Of course. I will be up in a moment.” Michael knew that it was not smart to get on Dale’s bad side. He might say that he ‘wishes’ that something would happen, but everyone knew that he expected it to get done. And if it didn’t get done, bad things would happen to the person responsible. Because of that, Michael nodded at the boy who had bested him and winked at the big guy as he bolted out of the arena.
Dale Brown was a person of authority. He was a retired war hero and played a key part in keeping Praesidium safe from bad people. Dale had founded the Training Facility and taught anyone who was fourteen years or older how to use their talents to protect Praesidium to the best of their ability. Some people were taught how to use their minds and others were taught how to use their fists. Of course, everyone was taught how to use their brains and brawn together, but almost everybody specialized in one of them.
Occasionally, we get a special case who specializes in both. We call them the “Elite Guard,” or EG for short. I have only ever met one EG, because I have only been training a short period of time: Dale Brown himself. He is practically a living legend around here. He and his partner once went up against a group of Heavy Hitters while they were tied together and massacred them. Unfortunately, Dale’s partner did not get out unscathed and died shortly after. Or, as Dale said it, “It was an atrocious fight, and my partner and I did not get out unscathed. He had been hurt more than I, and . . . well, he never stood by my side after that. After that, my life has never been the same.”
All of this went through my head as I walked into Dale’s quarters. The tables were covered with papers. Battle plans, training drills, schedules, and letters littered the desks. There were bags under Dale’s eyes and he looked like a zombie. Nonetheless, he probably could’ve beaten the crap out of every person in the Training Facility, even in his sleep-deprived state.
“Sir,” I said. “You wished to talk with me.”
I wholeheartedly expected him to launch into an in-depth explanation of everything I did wrong and how that was unacceptable from a person of my skill. Instead what I got was, “Yes, indeed.”
He sounded distracted, and he kept glancing at a piece of paper in front of him.
“Michael, you have done well in your time here. You have shown time and again what you can accomplish through determination. However, you seem disgruntled all the time, and, while you have many friends here, you never seem to feel comfortable. I want to fix that. I have an . . . offer, if you will.”
“What is it, sir?”
His eyes gleamed as he waved his arm dramatically at the mess in front of him and pointed out three papers. Each one had a picture, a name, and a list of strengths and weaknesses. The first one was labeled Michael Hunter (me), the second one was Alexander Watson, and the third was Benjamin Barker.
“Michael Hunter,” Dale said, “you have determination and strength. Whatever you start, you see it through. Alexander Watson has charm. He is clever and uses his head. He can talk himself out of any situation. Benjamin Barker has speed. He can read a situation faster than any other trainee at this facility. He isn’t the strongest, but with his fast reflexes and reaction time, he can be quite threatening. Together, you make the Trifecta, a team capable of completing any task.”
“Now, I have only one question. Do you accept?”