Chapter Twelve

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The following week undoubtedly became one of the toughest of my life. Following brief trips to the Dining Room, we Trainees would have to undergo intense fight sessions that would drain any energy I may have gained by eating or sleeping. I'd learned in the process that I was tragically out of shape but, luckily, I hadn't had to visit the clinic again: Leah would conveniently locate her robot close to mine so she could help me if I needed it. Today she does the same.

Swiping away stray strands of hair from my dripping forehead, I sweep kick the legs from beneath my droid and it falls. Instantly I begin punching its jaw, grunting softly with exertion, and eventually the lights on its eyes fade off.

"Look at you, hotshot! That's the fifteenth today!" Leah calls over to me. I feel myself blushing a little with pride. Having someone to act as my safety cushion has helped me to relax; subsequently, I've been faring much better in battles.

"Everybody, set your robots against the wall!" Sam shouts. The sound of drills ceases as the tunnel-diggers turn to face the proceedings. I wipe the sweat from my brow and pull the droid towards the opposite side of the room. Out of breath, I cross my arms over my chest and wait until everyone else is finished moving. "Tonight we will have our performance assessment. As you all know we were supposed to begin this a week ago but there were certain... ah... setbacks."

He doesn't look at anyone in particular but I feel like the comment was directed towards me. A few people down, I see Josh shift uncomfortably, almost hidden by the crowd.

"In a moment, I'll call you up alphabetically and you will fight the droid to the best of your abilities."

All around me excited shouts rise up, but my breaths quicken. I won't have Leah there as backup. What if the same thing happens again, in front of everybody? What if I get kicked out of the Training Facility? Sam calls the first name and a tall girl steps up. She seems to have nailed her strategy and the robot crumples easily after a couple hits. Sam nods with satisfaction. He continues to call out names and write notes on a clipboard as people step forward to defeat their robots. The blood pounds against my ear drums. I think I might be sick.

"Joshua Grey," Sam calls out, a little hesitantly. Josh makes his way to the center of the room on shaky legs. Come on, I wish silently. With a small, trembling hand, he hurriedly reaches out and turns the robot on. It blinks to life and draws back its fist to land a blow on his face. For a second, I think that it will collide with Josh's jaw. But that mistake had already been made. Josh nimbly dodges the fist and kicks the robot's leg.

He is too weak: that's his problem. The droid easily rights itself and punches Josh's head. His small body crumples to the ground and someone from the crowd screams. Sam sprints to the robot, hammering it with his elbow. The light on its chest quits pulsing, and a collective gasp fills the room while Sam picks up Josh. The look on his face is an uncharacteristic mixture of anger and disappointment. Sam approaches Luke, who watches wide-eyed from in front of the tunnel, and hands Josh over to him.

"Take him to the clinic," he instructs. Luke nods and hurries off. Josh moans weakly in his arms.

"What was that all about?" Leah hisses. I shrug, perturbed. Sam resets the droid, sets it on its feet, and then continues to call out names as if nothing had happened. But I can't pay attention to the following fights; I can only remember the way that Josh's fragile body fell like a rag doll. What's going to happen to me?

"Enna Price!" I nearly jump out of my skin once my name is called. Leah sets her hand on my back as encouragement, but I still feel like I'm going to throw up. Slowly, I walk towards the middle of the room. I'm very aware of Matthew and Alex watching me from the tunnel opening. Which one of them will have to carry me out next?

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