Chapter 11 - Learning Curve

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 It had been dark for over an hour, but Codi still sat outside alone, slumped in one of the spectators’ seats. She glared at the arena, probing a loose tooth with her tongue and cursing everything and everyone. Fidgeting with the hem of her hoody, she had nothing left except her own unbridled fury.

It wasn’t Vasco she was angry with, or Barrow, or her team-mates, or even the other fighters from off-world. It was the feeling of utter impotence and uselessness the day had stamped on her. For a few brief weeks she felt like she’d been achieving something and one afternoon had wiped that feeling out like a man swatting a fly. Scowling, she kicked the seat in front of her, extracting a thwack that echoed across the empty arena. Four fights and four utter blow-outs were all she had to show for the hard work.

So what now? She’d always known that Brax-Delta would be the underdogs in The Gauntlet, but now there didn’t seem like much point in turning up. They’d go, get the crap kicked out of them and head home again, tails between their legs. There was a line between a plucky underdog and a waste of space. Maybe next year, or the year after that would be different. She was only seventeen, still green by Gauntlet standards. Maybe it was like this for every newbie. Your first year you learned the hard way just how much of an uphill climb things were going to be.

As she tried to console herself with that train of thought she almost didn’t notice the gangly figure making his way along the stands until he sat down beside her. She turned her black look on him, but he was too busy staring skywards to register it.

“Hell of a day, eh?” Max muttered. “One minute we’re all happy, guns blazing then bang-,” he clapped his hands together, - “reality check.”

“What do you want, Max?” she grated, looking back to the arena.

“Nothing, just thought you might want some company.”

“Well think again. I’m happy enough by myself.”

“C’mon now-,”

“I’m fine. Just leave me alone.”

Now he frowned. “Codi, what is it about people you hate so much?”

“Don’t you dare start thinking you know a damned thing about me!” she snarled. “I’m part of your Gauntlet team, that’s it. You don’t know me, you don’t need to know me. I don’t need a shoulder to cry on or a sympathetic ear, believe me, I’ve had just about as many of those as I can bear. Everywhere I go, ‘I understand what you’re going through’ – ‘oh, you can talk to me if you need to’ – I’ve heard all that garbage before. That’s not what I need. It’s not what any of us need.”

“Alright,” he replied, a hardness creeping into his voice. “What do we need then, in your expert opinion?”

“How the hell should I know?” She kicked the chair in front of her again in lieu of kicking him. “Ask Vasco, our great and powerful leader.”

“You know that’s not fair.”

“Look, all we accomplished today was finding out how totally screwed we are when the time comes for the real show.” Codi pinched the bridge of her nose. “None of us are ready for the Gauntlet, Max. You want to know what I think we need? We need more time to get ready and we just don’t have it.”

“It’s not as bad as that,” he said, his tone softening again. “So we lost in a friendly, but what was the last thing Vasco told you before this thing started.”

She stayed silent.

“He said: learn as you go,” Max continued, undeterred. “I don’t know about you, but I was starting to get the hang of it by my last fight. I still lost but so what? This isn’t the Gauntlet, it was a glorified practice session with a bunch of really dangerous sparring dummies.”

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