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Training Maneuvers


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Erin stood in the Doom Room as the nighttime city coalesced around her, dark and ominous and clothed in secret shadows. She'd had so much group training and fighting in the last month that it was almost starting to seem natural to have people at her back, but this was what it always came down to, fighting alone against a world that wanted you dead.

Her bat lay at her feet when the city was finished forming; she picked it up and gave it a twirl to extend it to its full length. Archer had been running her up against crowds of civilians at the beginning of her scenarios, but she suspected he'd be changing it up today. She looked to the sky, towards the unseen windows where she knew he was watching. A moment later, his voice filtered through the air. "The scenario begins... now."

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A heartbeat later, there was a scrape of sound from behind her in the alley. Erin spun just in time to dodge the brick hurled at her by one of the four thugs coming her way. No crowd of civilians, this. "Surrender now," she warned them, "or I don't count myself responsible for what happens to you." She brandished the bat, but these guys were stupid enough not to be intimidated. The leader of the group laughed and made a lewed suggestion about what he was going to be responsible for if she surrendered.

"Okay, but you asked for it," Erin said with a shrug. With just a moment's calculation she leapt into their midst, using her bat to mow them down with blinding speed. These weren't much of a threat, and went down easy, without so much as a punch. When the last one went down, she checked his pulse to make sure she'd passed, then moved on. The goal in these solo scenarios was always the same, somewhere in the city nearby, there was a glowing beacon she needed to reach, without killing or being killed in the meantime. It was a stupid game, but it was the only one in town.

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No sooner had she reached the mouth of the alley than another group of toughs was on her, this group eschewing bricks in favor of bats and guns. She gave her surrender spiel again, but that was cut short when one of them shot her in the chest without even waiting for her to finish. The first bullet was always a shock, a quick hot sting to the flesh that seemed like it should hurt so much more, but after the first hundred times, it had mostly lost its novelty.

She stood where she was for the first volley, so as to minimize collateral damage, then was once again diving amongst them as soon as the bullets stopped. Again, it was too easy. They were obviously humans, even if they were just as obviously bad guys, and none of them could hurt her. This wasn't Archer's style. What was he playing at?

Deciding to depart from ground level for the moment, Erin leapt up onto a fire escape, then to the roof of a nearby building. Usually it wasn't hard to at least spot the beacon, but today he'd hidden the damn thing, so she'd have to go looking for it. As she debated the best search strategy, a flicker of motion from above caught her eye, a second before she was knocked off her feet by a bevy of cackling women on broomsticks, flying in from overhead. God, she hated flyers.

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Erin rolled to her feet a second after being knocked down, deflecting a strike from a broom easily with her bat. These weren't just flying goons, though, they had some kind of energy blast as well, and she was quickly tumbling out of the way of green lightning strikes, trying to close in without getting too many shocks. The bat helped, giving her more flexibility to hang back and dart in for strikes, and let her target the vulnerable heads without worrying quite so much about taking them off. She got tagged twice with the lightning, which hurt quite a lot and burnt her uniform, but managed to take out the trio without too much trouble.

She was still rubbing her side where she'd taken the last lightning burn when another light appeared, this one rocketing across the rooftops and coming her way fast. Instinct had her jumping out of the way, which was all that saved her from taking the missile square to the chest. It exploded into the wall behind her instead, sending masonry raining down in chunks all around her. She ignored that, readying herself for the darker shape following close behind the missile.

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As the blocky shape came closer, it resolved itself into a metallic humanoid form, bristling with weapons. Erin thought it was a robot initially, but caught sight of the human face behind the armored helmet. "Prepare for your doom, puny hero," he chortled in a gratingly metallic voice, raising his arm to fire another missile.

"You first," Erin grunted, leaping into the air and smashing him in the head with the bat as she jumped behind him and out of the way of his projectile. The bat sang as it crashed against the metal, but she couldn't tell if it was actually doing anything against the figure inside. She'd already learned it was useless against robots, but this guy was something in-between. Even as she landed, he was pivoting around on legs that remained still, lashing out with an arm that glowed and sparked with electricity. It hit Erin full across the front and sent her flying into the already damaged wall, knocking a few more pieces down. It took her a moment to recover from the double impact, and by the time she did, he was upon her again.

She dodged another hit from that armpiece and leapt away, gaining a little height by hanging off an antenna array. It took him a crucial moment to locate her again, a moment she used to her advantage, dropping down onto him and ripping off his helmet. Electricity jolted through his suit, giving her a painful shock, strong enough that she swore she smelled her hair burning. Sheer force of will had her holding on anyway, even as she brought the bat to bear against the villain's skull. Her fist would've been faster and surer, but even now she remembered dimly that this was all a test.

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The armored man let out an anguished cry and tumbled over, taking her with him when she didn't jump out of the way fast enough. That didn't feel good, either. She crawled away, painfully battered, her uniform scorched nearly black across the front and legs. Crouched on the roof like a gargoyle, she gasped for breath and waited to heal, still clutching the bat like a security blanket. One thing she'd learned fast was that even if the wounds healed quickly, that didn't make them hurt any less.

Since she was staring at the gravel, she wasn't even aware of another approach until she heard the familiar voice from overhead. "Back for more, Wander? You really do like punishment." Without even thinking about it, Erin vaulted backwards, avoiding the lightning bolt by the skin of her teeth as Lady Thunderbolt swept in for the attack. The flying villainess was fast, deadly fast, and avoided the half-assed blow Erin aimed at her with ease

Erin scrabbled backwards like a crab, seeking cover behind the blasted wall. With her concentration fractured, her nerves jangling, and her body still trying to knit itself back together, Erin would've run, if she'd thought there'd been anywhere to go. But she'd fought this battle before, and she remembered how it went. There was nowhere to go, and no backup coming. It was the endgame. She levered herself to her feet with the help of the bat, then tossed it aside. It wasn't going to help her now.

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The light Lady Thunderbolt gave off was a weakness, providing a useful beacon for Erin, even on the other side of the wall. Leaping high into the air, she put her feet together and aimed for the flyer as she came down, driving her feet into the villain's back and trying to force her to the ground. They both went tumbling from the attack, Thunderbolt with a satisfying yelp, but when they fetched up against the wall, it was Erin's arms that were pinned. "And now you learn what happens to lonely little wannabes," the villain grated, before sending a thunderbolt straight into Erin's body.

Erin jolted and saw starbursts exploding across her field of vision, but fought off her body's need to just stop moving for one goddamn minute until it didn't all hurt so much. Bringing her legs together, she levered her feet up into Thunderbolt's pelvis, throwing the villain off her with a grunt of effort, then diving after her.

They wrestled across the roof, trading punches, kicks, all but spitting in each other's faces. Erin forgot her training, forgot the test and the hostile viewing audience, forgot everything but the overwhelming urge to survive. If she could've gotten ahold of that neck, she'd have shaken the head right off it, and damn the consequences. Even then, it wasn't enough. She couldn't dodge every lighting bolt, and her own blows, hard as they were, seemed to hardly do any damage at all. Finally, desperately, she broke off the attack and rolled into the hole in the wall the missile had dug, huddling like a rodent and waiting for the blast that would finish it. There was a wash of light from beyond her closed eyes, and everything went away.

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When Erin opened her eyes again, she was, of course, curled in a little ball in the middle of the empty Doom Room, looking and feeling like a beaten-up fool. She could curse herself, but there wasn't any point to it. He'd gotten her again. Even now her heartbeat wouldn't slow down, and she kept looking up to wait for the next enemy. She put her head back on her knees and waited for her aching body to put itself back together again. The exhaustion wouldn't fade so quickly, but she'd live with it until she could drag herself back to her room for what was sure to be an exciting round of dreams. She'd been telling herself lately that at least her dreams weren't as bad as James', but right now that wasn't much consolation. Come to think of it, maybe she'd better take a page from his book and find somewhere else to sleep, lest Alex get another unintentional ride through the darker parts of her roommate's subconscious.

Archer was not a foolish man, he left her alone until she was mostly finished healing and was once again standing on her feet. Even with the downtime, she jerked back to attention as the door opened, ready to fight if she had to. "What was it for?" she demanded, her voice holding more exhaustion than anger. "I couldn't do anything to her, again."

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Archer shrugged, letting the door close at his back. "We have to monitor your progress," he told her nonchalantly. "You're doing better with the low-level thugs. Why did you toss the bat away in the last fight?"

"It wouldn't do anything," Erin told him. "It wouldn't hurt her. She's a flyer, and I had to be able to grab her."

"You wanted to hurt her," Archer corrected, "because she beat you last time. And you didn't trust your weapon to help you do that. Stopping is always preferable to hurting," he reminded her for the thousandth time. "You still need to work on that. And on the stick-handling." He raised his arm and tossed something to her.

Erin reached out and caught it automatically, giving it a puzzled look. It was the bat again, barely as long as her hand from tip to tip in its collapsed form. "What am I supposed to do with this?" she demanded, looking around to see if he was about to start the simulation again. Surely she wasn't going to get a chance at Archer himself, no matter how tired she was.

"That one's real," he told her. "You've had a chance to train with it in the simulator, now I want you to start taking it to group training and learning to use it in real combat. It has the same properties, it'll keep you from killing the people you're hitting, and make your strikes more effective. "If," he emphasized, "you actually use it. Hit the showers."

Even making a snarky comment seemed like too much work at this point. Erin stuck the bat in her pocket and dragged herself out of the doom room. Some days she hated trying to be a hero.

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