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Chapter 37: Battle Royale
palladian23 wrote in superwebnovel
Author's Notes/Warnings: Hand-to-hand combat

Hi, everyone! I'm back, with the first chapter of Book 3. I think all of you will like this; I've been having fun reading back through this book and editing it, because I think it drops you in the middle of the action and keeps you there, and I hope you enjoy it. In my world, things have eased up a lot over these past few months and I'm in a lot better of a place. Thanks to all of you for sticking with me through it.

Many thanks to my editor-in-chief, gwoman for all of her help in recent months in getting these new chapters ready for you all to read.

Back to Chapter 36

“All right, everyone!” Captain Shapiro said, raising his voice to be heard over the murmurs of several conversations going on between various team members. “Come closer and let me brief you on what's expected here.”

Lex went with the group who recently emigrated from America as they moved forward in a cluster. As she turned her head, she saw the original Brussels team do so as well, the only link between the two groups seeming to be where she and Rolf stood in the middle.

“I know it isn't easy to get used to having so many new team members at once, and that everyone is probably pretty curious to see what everyone else can do. So, we're going to face off against each other, the original team here and our new people. For you newcomers, this room is strengthened so that it should be able to stand up to just about anything you can dish out, so feel free to do what you think you can—if you start breaking it up, though, I'd request you try to hold back since our budget for fixing it isn't unlimited. Also, for all of you, we're not trying to kill each other here, just incapacitate or hold our team members. Please try to avoid actual injuries, but if there are any accidents, I've asked Lily Chen to stand aside for this fight just in case. Are there any questions?” the captain said, surveying the room.

“Yeah,” said Jan Lindberg, raising one long, pale arm, his jaggedly cut black hair falling over one dark eye. His tone sounded angry and he glared at his future opponents. “For the team that wins the fight, what do they get?”

Captain Shapiro raised an eyebrow, but didn't otherwise acknowledge Jan's mood. “The reward of a job well done.”

“How about dinner on the losing team?” Jan asked, his tone still aggressive.

The captain gave him a thin smile. “That's not in the budget, Jan. If everyone in the team wants to agree that it'll come out of their own pockets, though...” he replied, not finishing his sentence but turning to the team instead.

Lex turned to look at Rolf, who shrugged and then nodded. Miranda MacAllister, usually on the graveyard shift with Jan, tilted her head to the side as she considered the question, her long grey hair sweeping gracefully out in contrast with her smooth, pale skin and icy blue eyes. She finally nodded as well, then looked over at Tamara De Luca and Marguerite Lambert. Tamara moved her head from side to side as she considered the question, then swung her dark hair with fiery red highlights over her shoulder. “Sure,” she said, then looked to Meg at her right. Meg smiled, showing off beautiful teeth, curly dark hair, and mischievous green eyes. “Yes, let's do it,” she replied in heavily French-accented English.

The captain nodded and then turned to where the new members of the team stood. “Well, what do you think?” he asked.

Lex couldn't help but smile as everyone turned to Riss, who gave them a hard look in return. After a moment, Casey asked, “Would that be a problem?”

“Not at all,” Riss replied with a shrug, her small smile in evidence.

“All right, then,” Captain Shapiro continued, “the losers will buy dinner for the winners. This fight means one more thing, which I expect all of you to agree on with no complaining and no exceptions. Once this fight is done, we are all friends and we are all one team. Is that understood?”

He looked all the way around the group then, meeting each person's eyes in turn. Lex nodded as he turned to her, but she heard grumbling from some other people, and Jan even turned his head away in disgust, but after a couple of long minutes, most everyone had voiced or indicated agreement. When the captain seemed satisfied, he moved back one step.

“Since we're all in agreement, then, unless there are any other questions, let's begin. Everyone, pick your opponents.”

No one else had questions, Lex guessed, since everyone seemed to choose that moment to step back and size up the other team. She and her teammates first moved into their favorite beginning fighting stance—the one they'd come to call the deadly flower. Lex and Kate moved nearer to Lou and Casey, and the four of them ended up back to back in pairs with plenty of space in between the four of them for Riss and Victor to stand. She and her friends had originally conceived of this formation as a way to fight and to protect their members who were not as used to hand to hand, but it seemed that Victor and Riss had become adept at protecting themselves nonetheless. Today, Lex noted that Riss had a thin laptop with her and a bluetooth piece in her ear and Victor had brought a couple of strange-looking sidearms with him along with what looked like a newer version of the goggles and gloves he'd tried out in Seattle.

A few seconds of calm descended on both groups, and Lex took a moment to assess the Brussels' team battle formation. They stood spread-out, facing the former Americans, with the captain in the back. Rolf and Jan flanked Miranda, both appearing smaller as they stood next to her. Tall and graceful, Miranda stood somewhere around six feet, while Rolf stood nearer to Lex's height and Jan a few inches taller than that. Rolf and Miranda both appeared to be calm, but Jan seemed angrier than he had earlier. Tamara and Meg stood nearer to one another, and Meg's slim, petite figure contrasted slightly with Tamara's stronger-looking limbs. As a matter of fact, Lex had met Tamara in the gym several times and knew that the woman lifted weights as well.

After the breathless moment of waiting, both teams seemed to begin moving at the same time.

“I want Rolf,” Kate said, stepping forward in his direction.

“Leave Shapiro to me,” Riss said, her voice low and menacing.

The other team seemed to be picking targets, as well. Miranda and Tamara stepped away from their group and walked together, seeming to home in on Casey and Lou. Meg moved forward as well, but her movement seemed to propel her into the air, and Lex had a breathless moment as she watched the other woman hover then start to move upwards. As Lex glanced to the side, she saw Victor looking at Meg's progress as well, smiling gently.

“I'll deal with her,” he said softly as he walked past Lex.

Lex took a step back in order to give Victor and Meg more room, and frowned when she noticed herself standing alone. She tried to take inventory of everyone, but her eyes stuck on Riss and Captain Shapiro, who'd moved into opposite corners of the room, both seeming to be deep in concentration. She raised an eyebrow as she noted what looked like tiny cars rolling along the floor and small flying drones all heading in Riss' direction. To her surprise, the coordinated groups of drones split, some of them breaking off into different directions or crashing into one another.

A moment later, she felt surprised again as she saw a bright light out of the corner of her eye and turned quickly to see Tamara bent forward, breathing fire out of her mouth. It came out in a small stream, but something seemed to be happening afterwards, something Miranda looked to be doing, because the tall, grey-haired woman stood near the fire with her hands spread out, and after her, the flow of flames had grown and was directly aimed at Lou and Casey.

Movement in the other corner of the room caused Lex to turn her head again, and as she watched, Rolf, now completely transformed into a wolf much larger than any she'd ever seen, all black with stunning deep gold eyes, stood facing off with Kate. They seemed to be focused on each other to the exclusion of all else, moving quickly enough that Lex had to concentrate to follow with her eyes.

Turning her head slightly brought Meg and Victor into view. It seemed that Meg could fly or hover at her discretion, and she'd used that ability to hover at a level with Victor. Lex hadn't known that Victor had created some boots for himself like the ones he'd made for her, but she smiled to see her friend clinging to the wall as Meg floated, making some kind of signals with her hands.

Lex turned to look at the rest of the room, trying to find her opponent, closely scanning the crowd as she looked for anyone free. She couldn't even think of who she'd forgotten until she felt someone materialize behind her. The next thing Lex knew, she felt a knife at her throat and a snarling voice in her ear.

“That's right, just stand there, because I've got you now,” he said, and as he spoke, Lex could hear Jan, the one person she hadn't thought about.

“You thought you could just come here and win everyone over, right?” he asked, beginning what sounded like a tirade against her.

For her part, Lex turned her head as much as she could, smiling the whole time until she met Jan's eyes. He scowled at her, still speaking harsh words. She looked into his eyes to let him know she trusted him, and began to sing. Lex couldn't have told anyone later what she chose to sing, but she put a message into the song that the fighting should stop and that they should just be friends. After a while, Jan stopped speaking, looked at the knife in his hands and chose to put it back into its sheath. He shrugged as he let Lex go.

“These things are kind of bogus, don't you think?” he asked, shoving his hands in his pockets.

Lex answered him with a smile. “How about we just sit to the side and talk instead?”

He nodded in reply and followed Lex over to an empty corner of the room. She sat down on the floor tailor style while he crouched beside her, resting his back against the wall. Lex made it a point to smile as she looked at him again, while he glanced down and away.

“So,” she said, trying to catch his eye again, “I know we haven’t had time to talk since we work such different shifts. Where are you from, originally?”

He looked over at her, his visible dark eye boring into hers, and she met his gaze. Jan gave her a half-grin before he broke eye contact. “Ah, well, I’m from Sweden. I came down here to try to get away from some of the bad winters.”

Lex nodded. “I hear it’s beautiful up there, but I’m sure having that much cold weather would be hard if it’s not your thing. How do you like Brussels?”

“It’s not bad,” he said, shrugging. “I wanted to go even farther south, but I don’t know any Italian and my German isn’t that great.”

“Well, I bet it’s warmer here than in Sweden, anyway,” Lex replied, her smile growing. “What do you do for fun when you’re not here?”

They both paused due to the sound as Tamara leaned forward, breathing out another column of fire. Miranda accelerated and increased the volume of the fire as it moved towards Casey and Lou, who both dropped back, Lou throwing up his arms and Casey turning to the side to protect their faces, at least, against it. Lex glanced around the room to find Victor jumping off the wall, shooting his newest version of contained shock missiles at Meg, who appeared to be putting up some sort of force field as she hovered, because Lex could see Victor's projectiles hit something invisible in front of her, sparking before they fell to the ground. Kate had climbed part of the way up the wall and hissed at Rolf, who growled in return and attempted to run and charge up the wall to hit her with a shoulder. Riss and Captain Shapiro stood not far from one another now, each glaring as what looked like a cloud of tiny robots circled their feet and flew through the air between them. Lex spotted what appeared to be sharp prongs on some of them and raised an eyebrow.

Jan looked back at her after a moment, and Lex smiled to see the grin on his face. “Looks like everyone else is busy. To answer your question, though, I DJ at one of the local clubs most nights before I come into work, and later on the weekends.”

Lifting an eyebrow, Lex asked him, “A DJ, huh? So, have you heard our music?”

He approached something that resembled a full smile then. “Yeah, I heard that your group had a band, so I checked some of your stuff out. I liked it, but it's not exactly club music.”

Lex laughed. “True. If you want some CDs, though, let me know.”

“I'd like that,” Jan replied, still looking at the fights going on in front of them.

As Lex watched, Kate and Rolf grappled on the floor, tumbling over one another in a series of snarls. Meg and Victor seemed to be at an impasse, both of them surveying each other for the moment, while Riss seemed as if she'd lost a bit of control of the fight between her and the captain, her feet now being attacked by a few of the little robots. Casey and Lou stood on either side of Miranda and Tamara, who seemed to be trying to figure out which one of the two they should focus on. Suddenly, as Tamara had begun to switch attention from Lou to Casey, both of the big figures drew their hands back and then clapped them together hard. The resulting sound wave caused Tamara to clap her hands to her head and stagger around dizzily but appeared to have left Miranda unaffected, although she had her hands out to the side now as if trying to push something away from her.

“So,” Lex ventured after a space of silence, looking sideways at Jan, “are you angry with me about something?”

Jan shook his head once as he turned away, and on the small fraction of his face that Lex could see, she registered an expression of embarrassment. Finally, he sighed. “No, I...you'll probably find out if you're around me any length of time that I get angry all the time. Sometimes, there's no real reason for it,” Jan finished, meeting Lex's eyes for a second before turning away again.

“You know, if I did anything to make you angry, you can tell me,” Lex responded, thinking there must have been some reason Jan had become upset. “I'd rather you tell me what I did so that I can avoid doing it again and upsetting you or someone else.”

He studied the floor then. “Look, Lex, I heard you were on the run before you got here, and thought you might be some sort of criminal before we met. When we actually talked, though, I can see you're just a regular person. It wasn't anything you did that made me think that,” Jan continued as he looked at Lex, answering her unspoken question. “I just build things up in my mind sometimes. I was wrong this time, so I'm sorry.”

His voice had dropped to a low tone on the last sentence, but Lex smiled gently as she heard him. “It's OK,” she responded in a low voice, and turned to look him in the eye. “Your opinion of me may change. You know, I used my power against you just now, when you had your knife at my throat, to convince you that we shouldn't fight.”

Jan laughed softly then, looking down at his hands before he looked her in the eye again. “I figured you had,” he said, to which Lex couldn't help but just stare back at him, but Jan just shrugged. “There are always rumors before new people start up on a team. For some of you, like Casey and Lou, it's pretty obvious what you can do, but for you, Meg had said that she heard your words could reach straight through into people's minds and hearts. I figured if I was angry enough, though, that it wouldn't matter, that I'd be able to get you anyway, but then when you sang like that, I just realized how stupid it was to be fighting. I'm not even mad about it; it's almost like you just pointed something out to me that I should have already known.”

Lex shrugged, feeling the blush on her cheeks. “I can't really change people's minds or anything, but when I sing like that, I can convince them to try something that they would probably have wanted to do anyway. Does that make any sense?”

“I guess so,” Jan responded with a shrug. “Doesn't really matter to me, though; I'm convinced after watching all of you fight that you'll be good additions to the team.”

Lex couldn't help but look at their comrades again and noted that Miranda was trying to hold Lou and Casey off with what must have been heavy wind as the two of them slowly approached her, Casey's loose hair streaming back away from her head and Lou's braid lifting up to a horizontal position. Tamara had backed away to a nearby wall, still holding her hands to her ears. Riss, despite standing as if she'd been injured, appeared to have gained some control of the situation, and the small robots rolled between her towards Captain Shapiro, involved in tiny crashes and traffic jams. The flying ones seemed stuck between them in mini-dogfights. Kate and Rolf stood face to face now, Kate on the floor on all fours to growl at the wolf, muzzle to mouth. Meg had taken to the air again, defending against another assault from Victor, who'd changed weapons and continued firing at her.

“Thanks,” Lex said as she ducked her head, tearing her attention away from the fights. “So, how did you get behind me so fast, anyway? I didn't even see where you came from, and believe me, sneaking up on me is usually one of the last things anyone can do.”

Jan smirked now as he met her gaze. “Ah, you've figured out some of my secrets,” he replied. “Actually, it's hard to explain, since no one can really tell exactly how it works, much less me. What it feels like is that I can disappear into the shadows, any shadow. I don't know if that's what I'm doing, or if I just cause anyone who might be looking at me not to notice me, but what I can do is follow the line of any shadow and appear at any point along it I like. If there's someone in the shadow, or near it, that allows me to get to them so that they don't notice me until it's too late.”

Lex could feel her eyes opening wide as she took in that information. “Wow, no wonder you like to work at night!” she finally responded.

When he grinned at her in response, Lex couldn't help but return the friendly look. A moment later, however, Jan's expression changed to one of surprise. “Oh, have a look,” he said, gesturing with his head. “It seems like the game is changing.”

When Lex glanced over, she noted that Casey had begun to move away from where Lou and Miranda faced off, albeit slowly due to the heavy wind coming her way. Once free, she went towards where Riss and Captain Shapiro stood moving their rolling or flying chess pieces. Casey walked freely through the area, however; not with gliding steps like the other two, though, because the moment she stepped on one of the little rolling robots, she crushed it. When she got close enough, Casey leaned over to say something into Riss' ear.

Riss nodded in reply and moved back to rest against the wall, her attention now focused on the battle going on between Lou and Miranda. Lily had moved Tamara behind a barricade, where she sat in the observers' seats to be treated.

“What do you think they're planning?” Jan asked, curious about Casey and Riss' moves.

“If I had to guess,” Lex replied thoughtfully, “I'd say that Casey is trying to get Riss to commandeer the environmental controls to try to bring up enough air to counteract what Miranda is doing.”

As she spoke, however, Lex watched as Kate and Rolf's wrestling rolled them between Victor and Meg. Since the other two had been busy firing at one another, Lex raised an eyebrow as Kate cried out, probably the victim of a cross-fire incident. She stood up then, her expression angry, and focused in on Meg, currently hovering several feet off the floor.

“Oh, this doesn't look like it'll end well,” Jan commented, closely watching the group of four who appeared to now be switching targets.

While Meg and Kate seemed to size one another up, Victor, who'd lodged himself a few feet up the wall, took aim and fired at Rolf. Lex felt a thrill run down her back as Rolf let out a high yip, then growled and charged in Victor's direction, snapping at his feet but turning at the last second to shove him squarely with a shoulder.

Around the time Victor fired, Kate had crouched down, still focusing on Meg. A moment later, she launched herself in the air, getting high enough to catch Meg's calves under her arm, and pulled, aiming them both at the ground. Lex could see the panicked look on Meg's face as she tried to keep airborne but couldn't manage it, the two of them landing hard on the ground a split second later.

Victor had somehow managed to keep his perch on the wall, probably because he'd dropped his gun to hang on to the wall with both hands. He climbed up higher as soon as he got the foot Rolf had knocked off the wall back in play and held position about five feet up, watching Rolf snarl and pace below. He looked at the other gun he'd brought and even tried hitting Rolf once, but whatever it fired didn't seem to have much effect on Rolf, so he slipped it back in its holster instead, looking over in Captain Shapiro's direction.

The captain and Casey now faced off, since she'd completed destroying all of the small rolling robots and batting the flying ones out of the air. He tried to get around her to get at Riss, but Casey had been too well trained to let him, keeping him at bay with movements that created a virtual wall protecting Riss. He began to try some martial arts on her then, obviously frustrated, but she used her knowledge to simply block his moves. Lex had to smile as she recognized some she'd used to great effect herself.

Once Kate had tackled Meg, she rolled over and straddled the woman, drawing her fist back to strike. Meg looked horrified and panicked, yelling, “All right, I yield!”

Captain Shapiro looked over at the pair rolling on the floor and raised an eyebrow. “OK, everybody, stand down for a minute.”

Jan looked over at Lex with a grin, to which she answered with one of her own. “Looks like this may be over,” Jan said softly, turning his attention to the captain.

“It seems as if Tamara is out of the fight for the moment,” Captain Shapiro began, looking over at where Lily and Tamara sat together. “Miranda?”

Miranda didn't turn, instead keeping her eyes on Lou. “I think we have a stalemate here, sir,” she replied.

Lou nodded after she finished speaking, standing up straight now that he no longer fought against the wind.

“All right,” the captain continued. “I think we have a stalemate over here, as well. Casey, Riss?”

Riss looked over at him from behind Casey, her expression flat, but she nodded after a few seconds. “All right, I can agree to that,” Casey said once Riss had responded.

“Rolf?” he asked, then looked slightly sheepish. “Sorry. Victor, then.”

“I'm going to have to admit defeat,” Victor replied. “I don't have anything on me right now that can affect Rolf, and I can't stay attached to this wall forever.”

He slipped a few inches while he spoke, then jumped down as he finished, brushing his hands off on his trousers. Rolf looked up at him with complete placidity and stepped back to give Victor some room to comfortably stand.

“Meg and Kate, we've heard how that came out,” Captain Shapiro summarized with a glance in their direction, “which only leaves Jan and Lex.”

The captain gave them a glance that said they'd better have a good explanation for what they'd been doing. Lex smiled tentatively, not sure what to say, but Jan spoke before she could think of anything. “She beat me,” Jan said.

“I didn't even see you two fighting,” Captain Shapiro answered, looking at the pair with a furrowed brow.

“She convinced me that I didn't want to fight,” Jan said, smiling now as if he actually meant it. “The thing of it is, I don't think I really wanted to all along, and she just reminded me of that.”

Shaking his head, the captain replied, “All right, I'll want the full story about this later. For now, does anyone want to continue, with those who've been defeated withdrawing from the field, or should we call this a completed exercise?”

A few small knots of people formed, discussing whether they wanted to continue, but as everyone weighed in after several minutes had passed, the group consensus that Lex heard seemed to be a vote to stop at that point.

“All right then, gather around,” Captain Shapiro said as he stepped to the center of the room. He looked at everyone around the circle, including Tamara and Lily. “Tamara, do you need more medical attention?”

Tamara shook her head, then took a step back as if that had been a bad idea. “Lily says I'll be back to normal in a day or so; my ears are still ringing from the impact earlier, though. You may have to speak up so that I can hear you.”

“OK,” the captain continued with more volume. “Two defeats and a casualty on our team, compared with one defeat on the other team. That tells me that we have a lot to learn from our newest team members. It looks like we're picking up the tab tonight, which means our new team members get to pick where we go.”

After Lex leaned nearer to her friends to have a whispered conversation, they eventually decided on a restaurant down the street that had become a favorite of theirs due to the fact that they served a lot of vegetarian food. When Casey expressed their preference, Tamara laughed in surprise. “That's it? I figured you'd want to go to one of the five-star places downtown.”

The whole group came together then, talking about the meal ahead and comparing notes on the fight as they all made their way out of the training room. This time, however, the old and new members of the team had mixed together in small conversational knots. Grinning about the way both teams had integrated, Lex reached back to turn the lights off, being the last one to leave the room.

Forward to Chapter 38, Part 1
Comments about anything you liked or that you thought could be improved are extremely welcome!

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Welcome back :). Its nice to hear your life's calm down.

Thank you! It's good to be back, and to have enough time to actually enjoy it. Thanks for coming to read, and for your kind comment!

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