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Avenger Assembled

Placement Tests -- Wander

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It was a fine day in early June, not long after her shenanigans with Coach Jones and the punching test, when Erin got the message from Mr. Archer about her placement test: the equipment was ready and it was time for her to take her turn! She'd been invited to meet with Mr. Archer in the Jasmine Summers Administration Building, the intimidatingly official structure where she'd first had to sign all the forms that had helped her become a student at the Claremont Academy. Fortunately, Mr. Archer was there to greet her at the door, a relaxed smile on his face. "Good morning, Erin," he told her sociably. "How do you feel?" he asked as he pushed open the door for her.

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"Fine, thank you," Erin said, picking at the sleeve of her uniform. It was the first time she'd worn the thing, and she was not at all sure about it. It seemed just a little too tight everywhere, not necessarily for physical comfort, but for her mental well-being. But it wasn't like a lot of people were going to see her today. "What kind of test is this going to be?" she asked.

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"It's going to be fairly rigorous," Archer told her honestly as he led her further into the building. "You'll be tested mentally, physically, and emotionally. There is one thing I want you to keep in mind before we start," he added as they walked down the hall to the administrative offices. "Nothing of what you're going to see is real," he told her, "so that when you're being tested, you can be honest with your reactions." To Erin's surprise, Mr. Archer led her into the staff library, where no one looked particularly surprised to see her. He bent down before a panel on the wall, holding his finger there and keeping his eye still. As Erin watched, the wood paneling parted slightly to reveal a laser scanner. "Hot Rod," said Archer clearly, his words causing a whole panel in the wall to slide open and away, revealing an elevator inside. "Let's go."

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Feeling strangely obvious in her blue and yellow outfit, for all that every student had one in their closet, Erin followed him into the elevator, keeping her arms crossed over her chest. "When does the nothing is real part start?" she asked, looking around the elevator, then at Mr. Archer himself. "Is this real? Are you real?"

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"Don't worry," said Archer with a reassuring look, "this isn't like one of those bizarre psychological tests where everything you do and see and say is part of the experiment. You get enough of that manipulative stuff in high school as it is." They headed down four levels in the elevator, coming down somewhere entirely different. The subbasement, or at least level four, turned out to be very different from the organic, old-fashioned school upstairs. The walls were polished steel and the floors bright white linoleum, with frosted glass panels put over every door that they walked by. "Welcome to Sub-Basement Four," said Archer as they started their walk down the corridor, "I know you had the confidentiality talk with Ms. Dugan when you joined the school." They passed by a huge gymnasium as they went, the half-open swinging doors big enough to show a space as big as the entire gym upstairs all squirreled away down below. The hallway brightened as they approached and dimmed as they left, leaving student and teacher walking in a bubble of light in an otherwise dimmed corridor.

Eventually they reached their destination, a big set of sliding doors marked with "D-R" on each one. "Welcome to the, uh, training room," said Archer, giving Erin a reassuring smile. "If you need a glass of water or to use the bathroom, now's a good time to do it."

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Erin was walking on the balls of her feet as they reached the end of the long hallway, the darkness and the enclosed space serving to make her... well, not fearful, but very, very alert. If something bad were to happen now, it would be the devil's own time to get back to the surface, working in pitch blackness, while the air slowly went bad... She pushed the thought from her mind. "I'm fine," she told him. "We can start anytime."

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"Alan Archer, running training exercises for Erin "Wander" White." The words were enough to get the big doors to slide open for Erin and Archer, exposing a big, square room marked with squares on the walls. Pop culture on Erin's world had been similar enough to this one that she was familiar with the concept of a holodeck, though here the walls and squares were grey and darker grey rather than yellow and black. "Erin, the first thing we're going to do is a physical test. What I want you to do here is avoid the physical situations you'll see without fighting back directly. Imagine you're breaking into a highly protected supervillan's vault, and you need to keep moving past the booby traps without setting off any alarms. Do you understand?"

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She nodded, unfolding her arms and shaking them out as she looked around at the cold gray walls. "Just like, running and jumping and stuff, trying to get away? I guess I can do that. How do I know which way I need to go?" It was odd talking like that in an empty room, but she'd heard a few stories about the Doom Room, and she knew it wouldn't be empty for very long. More for something to do than because it was needed, she did a few quick stretches, as though she were about to run windsprints instead of run for her simulated life.

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Archer took a few steps back and called out "Run training program Lola!" At his words, the walls seemed to ripple around Erin, transforming themselves into solid, flat steel dotted with big bolts like armor plating. When the steel cage came down above her, she moved fast, diving away and tucking a neat forward roll as she leapt away from the falling cage. Her quick save was good, but unfortunately as she jumped forward the ground beneath her feet vanished! Just as a wide pit opened up beneath her and her heart skipped a beat, the "room" faded around her, and she was back in the Doom Room with Mr. Archer.

"Hmm, well, we'll work on that," said Archer. "Don't worry, it's your first time down here. Take a breath, and we'll run an acrobatics trial."

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Erin crouched in the middle of the floor for a minute, her heart slamming against her rib cage. She realized how foolish she looked, but for the life of her she couldn't straighten up and pull her head back into the training. With all her heart she wanted out of this room and back up on the surface, under the sun, but she couldn't exactly back out now. She'd come too far for that, and it wasn't like she had anyplace else to go. Just as the silence was starting to get really uncomfortable, she pushed herself to her feet and nodded that the test should continue.

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"Run program Save the Baby," called Archer when Erin was back on her feet, changing the room again now to a rooftop high above Freedom City. There were three "people" up there with them, a woman in pearls and a dress right out of the 1950s, a menacing-looking fellow in a black and white striped outfit and springs on his shoes, and a poor, helpless little baby.

"Oh, won't someone save my baby?" The woman screamed, just as the criminal laughed malevolently and bounded right off the rooftop onto the next one. Erin leaped after him, running quickly to catch up as she jumped from rooftop to rooftop. The man in front of her looked back and cussed, leaping straight off the side of the building! Erin threw herself after him, landing in a perfect tuck and roll on the ground some ten stories below, and leaped up after him again as he bounded up onto a high skyscraper, this one with a shining metal roof that was almost impossible to cling to.

Getting closer now, Erin leapt forward after the man, pursuing him as he bounded up the side of the building, until he was all the way up on top of the skyscraper's aerial! As he balanced on the very tippy-top, Erin climbed all the way up and grabbed the man by the foot, hauling him down with one hand while she deftly caught the baby with the other. Before she could decide whether or not to drop the criminal, the laughing baby and cussing spring-footed thug disappeared into the ether.

"100%, Ms. White!" called Archer. "Good job!"

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Erin dropped back into the defensive crouch again as the world disappeared, shaking her head to try and clear it both of adrenaline and the voice that argued that she'd have a better chance of saving the baby if she dropped the son of a bitch who'd taken it in the first place. She probably wouldn't have done it, knowing she was still in the simulation and being watched, but in some ways knowing he wasn't real would've made it easier. "What do I have to do next?" she asked, her breath sounding loud in her own ears.

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Archer took a few steps back and called out "Run Program: Tricky Devils." A steamy tropical jungle rolled up around Erin at his words, hiding the teacher from view. "Erin, this is a test of your senses. When you sense a real threat approaching you, I want you to point to it and say, "I see you!" You don't need to touch anything for the test to go forward, but it's all right if you do." When he was sure she understood, he called out, "Begin!"

No sooner had he done so than Erin sensed presences with her in the jungle, moving, shifting creatures that lurked very, very close at every turn. She turned and pointed at one shifting mass of trees, calling out in a loud voice "I see you!" that caused the figure inside to flash to life as a sleazy, gun-toting thug in denim that quickly disappeared. Erin moved quickly, feeling the involuntary sensation of prickers on her neck as she sorted out illusion from fantasy. "There! I see you!" She pointed and shouted, transforming a mass pushing its way through the bushes into a heavily-armed camo battlesuit bristling with weapons.

She caught the last figure moving through the brushes as it came in through the trees, a hideously-mutated monkey-man with a machine gun slung over his shoulder! Sorting out all the enemies around from the animals in the brush was no easy task, but she'd done so well that she made a mistake only at the end, turning and pointing out what turned out to be a very surprised illusory armadillo. When the scene faded around her, Archer was making approving notes on his pad. "Good job, Ms. White! You've got very good perceptions. We've got one test left, and I think you're going to like it after all this. Are you ready?"

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Wander shrugged. "I guess so," she said. She didn't really think she was going to enjoy whatever was coming next, but she was at least willing to play along. Even if she'd made a fool of herself or would make one yet, at least the test was almost over. She was ready to get out of this strange room. "What do I have to do?" she asked cautiously.

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"This is a four-stage finale," said Archer, taking a step back again from Wander. "We'll be giving you four opponents in ascending order of difficulty. Fight them exactly how you'd fight an enemy normally, don't worry about holding anything back. We're here to see how well you fight and evaluate your fighting style; there are no wrong answers here. Just fight, and fight well." He smiled at her. "Are you ready?" When Erin signaled she was ready, Archer called out, "Computer, run Quad-Fighting Program 1."

The scene around Wander changed, the Doom Room warping into a quiet street in Freedom City. People walked by and the buildings rose high, and there was a man facing her with a gun! "All right, girl!" The grim-faced thug spat, "Let's have your purse!"

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Erin stared at the thug, then looked over at Mr. Archer, then back. She took a step towards the mugger. "I'm a superhero," she told the pretend thug. "You can shoot me with that and it won't hurt me. But if you shoot me, I will hit you, and it will kill you. I'll be sorry, a little, but it won't be my fault. Put down the gun and run away, and I won't follow you."

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The "thug" blinked a few times, meeting Erin's eyes, and took a step back, lowering his gun. He disappeared at that, the sheer force of Erin's flat eyes enough to intimidate the thug out of attacking her directly. No sooner had the man disappeared, though, then Erin saw a new threat step out of a nearby dark alley. She didn't recognize the supervillan before her, his red cape rippling behind him in the breeze, but the twisted alien symbol on his chest and the malevolent look in his eye told her everything she needed to know about him. "You'd better run, girl! I don't scare that easily!"

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Wander's heartbeat sped up as she assessed the new threat, someone more obviously dangerous than the man with the useless gun. She poised for a fight, ready to meet any challenge, but didn't strike yet. She knew she was supposed to fight, but he was alive, or sort of, and it threw her. "Don't be stupid," she warned. "Step off, or I'll hurt you, probably bad. You don't want that."

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The simulated supervillain failed to heed the warning, laughing as he flew towards her. Without another thought, Erin drew back a fist and plunged it into his face, meeting it with the force of a speeding freight train. His neck snapped back as he tumbled out of the sky. Moving with silent speed and deadly purpose, Erin jumped on him, looking entirely ready to finish what she had started.

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Wander's antagonist was still alive, though heavily battered and broken. His breathing was coming shallowly and his neck was hanging at a strange angle, simulated blood on his face and on her hands. What lay next was her choice, no one else's. There was no sign that Mr. Archer, or anyone else, was going to interrupt her. As promised, the fight was hers to take all the way to the end. The simulated street was quiet and peaceful now that she'd punched the man into a back alley; there was only the usual background hum of the city.

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Wander didn't seem to be looking around, or indeed doing anything to assess the larger situation. In one smooth motion, she straddled her downed opponent and put her fists together, driving them down with immense force into the already damaged neck of the fake villain. Blood fountained up to cover her hands as she unemotionally assured herself that this villain would not rise again, then stood up, eyes blank and alert as she looked for the next threat.

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As she crouched in the alley and the simulated corpse beneath her feet faded away, Erin realized that she wasn't alone in the alleyway. There was a man above her, crouching low and stealthily on the rooftop far above her, watching her closely. The two of them froze for a moment, locking distant eyes, before Erin saw her new antagonist reach for something heavy and metallic-looking at his belt.

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With hardly a conscious thought, Erin leapt into the air, her strong legs easily carrying her to the level of the rooftop and over the head of this new opponent. As she flew by, she delivered a punishing kick to the head of her potential assailant. After connecting, she brought her feet back together to land safely on the rooftop and spun to face him.

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Erin landed a hit, but the body armor her simulated antagonist was wearing turned her kick enough that he got by with only a headache. A blow that should have decapitated him instead only bruised his head, leaving him battered but unbowed. "I'll make you pay for that! No one messes with Blackbird and lives!" He raised his gauntlets and fired something out of them at her, a rapidly expanding net that shot past her head and wrapped itself around a nearby beam. Cursing at his miss, the man spread his cape and began rising into the air, jets from his jetpack rising him into the air.

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With a short scream of frustration, the first sound she'd made since combat began, Erin leapt into the after the flying villain, bringing her fist up under his chin as hard as she could, then grabbed hold of him around the waist. She wasn't about to let him get away to attack from above.

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