He ushered me into a new room and closed the door, but didn’t join me on the other side. It took my eyes a bit to adjust to the different light conditions, but the texture and padding of the floor under my bare feet was a rather good clue as to what was about to happen.
“Put on some gloves.”
This new voice was a female one, coming from across the room. My head whipped around, searching for the source until she stepped into the light.
I didn’t have to ask if this was Alicia or not.
The answer was quite clear.
I couldn’t really remember my time before being arose, but in the time since? I’d never been afraid of anyone. Watchful, sure. Uncertain of their motives? That too. Aware of their capabilities for violence and evil?Of course.
Butthiswoman, with this unbridled rage in her eyes, body very clearly sculpted for strength and agility, obvious hostility stiffening her limbs, all while still, somehow, maintaining an air of… tranquility?
Thiswoman raised the fine hairs on my arms.
I didn’t argue though.
I went to the wall, which was lined with all sorts of training and exercise equipment, and picked out a clean pair of sparring gloves.
I was about to kickAlicia’sass.
Or… so I thought.
From the time I joined her in the middle of the training floor, she didn’t say a word – just easily dodged any blow I aimed at her, all while tagging me in the chest, shoulders, back, never my face. Never my head.
I tried to tell myself it was only because I’d been drugged, only because I’d been through the stress of a literal bomb going off, only because I’d survived a fight with a thorn. I’d had so much thrown at me in the last twenty-four hours that there was nothing balanced about our pairing.
That didn’t make me feel like less of a failure though.
Especially when she hit me with a jab to the stomach that immediately knocked the wind out of me, sending me straight to the ground. I didn’t even bother getting up – I just laid there, spread out, while she stood over me, fingers spread and then lowered as she silently counted down.
When she put the last finger down… she extended a hand to help me up.
“You’re still pretty sharp,” she said, as I regained my footing. “Good.”
I scoffed. “You just completely whooped my ass.”
“Yeah, after you’ve fought Wilder, survived a bombing attempt, and got dosed with ketamine. It’s a miracle that you’re even upright.”
She turned to walk off, and I followed her, back to that same wall of supplies. “So what was the purpose of this then?”
“Respect,” she answered, taking off her gloves. “To make sure you deserved it, and to show you that I have it. I wouldn’t be interested in you if you wouldn’t eventryto fight. But I still gave you the respect of not going hard on you, in your diminished state. If you want to spar again, when you’re recovered, I’ll do that.”
I shook my head. “Not necessary. I make it my business tonotseek out fights.”
She grinned. “Smart girl. I wouldn’t call it a fight though – fights are personal. Consider it training.”
“I don’t need any more training. I’m a mechanic.”
Alicia pulled in a breath, then nodded. “Yes, I heard. Wilder didn’t give you a very convincing pitch, I guess?”
“I’m just not interested in what’s being sold.”
“Because I know what freedom feels like now. So I’llnevergo back to bondage. You’ll have to kill me first.”
“I feel exactly the same way,” Alicia said, lowering herself to a seat on the ground. She motioned for me to join her, but I didn’t, which made her smile. “See? If I were interested inforcingyou to do anything… you’d be on the ground right now. But that’s not what this is, not what I’m proposing at all. I just understand the position I put you all in – being shoved into the real world with no transition – not like I had. It wasn’t fair to you. And so any of you that cross my path… I try to make it right, as much as I can.”