Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Childhood's End - Chapter 6

If Rowena resented Mark for forcing her into the fight, she didn’t show it; instead, routine began to settle into her life once more, and soon enough she was juggling her life, her job and her training with the ease expected of someone growing up as shadow warrior. Mark’s teaching method switched from testing Rowena to providing her with obstacles to tackle at her own pace. After three weeks, she hadn’t had a bit of firearms training, but she wasn’t overly concerned about that. There was so much to learn about herself, about what her body could do, how to use that strength and poise she’d trained all her life.

Mark watched her progress with growing silence. There wasn’t anything to say, snide or helpful.

On a Wednesday morning, Rowena started her usual training run. Her gi was worn-in now, she’d figured out how to fit the elbow and knee pads properly, and the fingerless gloves on her hands felt right. The first obstacle was a simple waist-high wall - there was no question as to whether it could be overcome, the really interesting part was the how. The choices were legion, and Mark had drilled her on all of them. One could simply jump it, but that required speed and vertical space. Vaulting with hands on the wall was easiest, but required hands in a profession that could ill afford to lose them to such trivial matters. Then, of course, there was the dive, combining a hands-free approach with a low jump-height, but it required a good roll on the other side.

Rowena went for a one-handed vault.

Behind that beckoned a corner, with a reinforced wall roughly opposite to a balancing beam. Still blessed with speed, Rowena headed for the wall, set her left foot against it and skipped onto the beam before flipping off it. Mark had commented that the advanced form of that exercise would be a backflip off the wall and then landing in a stable position on the beam, but he hadn’t managed that one, either. Rowena recalled how she had cracked a smile at the thought of Mark trying that, but after seeing him run the course, it seemed like what he couldn’t do paled in comparison to what he managed despite his bulk and age.


Her feet touched the ground from the flip; Rowena spun around on her heel and delivered a series of quick kicks to the training dummy in front of her. That done, she put her hands back onto the beam and pumped herself up, quickly walked backwards along the beam and backflipped off it at the end, landing in the eight of the large target painted onto the training mat. Damn, Rowena thought, too sloppy. Still, no time to chide herself; she spun into a semi-crouch and started sprinting up a ramp before jumping off at the edge and grabbing the hanging rope. She had to hang on quietly for a bit while the anchored rope worked out the vibration she had introduced, then hooked her legs around it and started climbing up. Up there, she found a labyrinth of metal beams and poles. She kept her hands on the rope, but swung up her body towards a horizontal pipe and slung her legs around it. Having found purchase, she shifted her hands to the pipe and started climbing along it. Almost done, she thought.


At the end of the pipe, she let down her upper body and grabbed another horizontal pipe below her, this one 90 degrees offset from her current vantage point. She knew that this could end up being a painful stunt, so she positioned her body correctly and then let her legs slip. She swung down with all her weight, but she used her strength to pull in her arms and tense her body, so she swung up into an upright position. After taking a moment to balance herself, she shifted forward and rolled, then let go to land on the mattress below.

“Good news, kid,” Mark said, and Rowena cocked her head to the side, only now noticing him. “If the secret agent deal goes bust, you can get a gig as gymnast.”
“I died again.”
“The backflip. How’d you put it? ‘Ten is land, the rest is sharks.’ Well, it’s Jaws again for me.”
“Where’d you go?”
“That’s not bad.”

Rowena could read the subtext from orbit: ...but it’s not exactly good, either.

“You know what’s going to happen when you hit the ten?”
“I get a prize?”
“You get a smaller target.”

Rowena felt the urge to complain rise and then subside, then she noticed herself nodding. When had Mark’s methods started making sense?

“Oh, one more thing,” he said, then opened his coat and withdrew a small box. “A little present.”

She inspected the box; it was heavy, and something rattled slightly within. Rowena tried to open it, but found it held together with a few strategic strips of duct tape.

“Do you have a...” - Mark drew a combat knife from his back and held it out for her to take - “...okay, stupid question.”

Inside the box was a Ruger .22 pistol with two magazines and a screw-on suppressor, as well as a dinky little owner’s manual.

“Anytime you’re ready,” Mark finally said, in a tone one shouldn’t employ when giving firearms to teenagers.

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