Chapter 13 - Find Another Way

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 Outside in the Brax-Delta arena, Codi watched from her perch atop one of the pillars as Max and Lita practiced their full combat sparring. Over the days since the tournament her spirits had been buoyed by the new training regimen. Being able to watch herself in action had given her a whole new slew of things to work on.

“She’s not using the suit,” Lucas commented from below her.

Watching more closely, Codi nodded her agreement. Lita still seemed tentative about utilising the exoskeleton to its full potential. The things opened up whole new bizarre styles of fighting, melding the martial arts with the ability to leap a dozen feet high, virtually run up walls and lift weights at least triple what they would normally manage. Lita was reluctant to trust her new abilities.

Codi winced as the other girl was thrown thirty feet by a punishing kick to the stomach. Max didn’t follow it up, instead striding over and helping his team mate up. As they began walking over Codi pushed off and dropped from the top of the pillar – a height of nearly twenty feet – and landed in a crouch, straightening up as the pair reached them.

“Well, that went well,” Lita muttered.

“You still need to buck up a little,” Codi replied. “Don’t just wear the suit, use it.”

“I know, I know, I know.” She removed the head-brace and shook her hair free. “It’s just difficult.”

“We’ve only got a few more good days of training left. Then it’s the Mayhems and we’ve got to be ready.”

“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem anymore.”

They all turned in unison at the sound of Vasco’s voice. The second she saw him Codi knew something was wrong. He had his hands buried deep into the pockets of his black jacket and his hard eyes were downcast. When he did force a glance upward he swallowed hard.

“Alright everybody.” He gestured to them all with one hand. “Get the exoskeletons off and meet me in the classroom. We need to talk.”

He turned and marched back into the academy leaving the five competitors in an uneasy silence. Codi looked at Max but her team mate could only offer an awkward shrug.

“What d’you suppose that’s about?” Lazlo murmured.

“I don’t know, but it doesn’t sound good.” Codi began unclipping the exoskeleton’s protective plates. “C’mon.” Once she’d struggled back down to her leggings and tank top she set off without waiting to see if the others were following. Almost running through the halls of Brax-Delta she burst into the classroom to find Vasco sitting on one of the desks, watching a recording of one of the previous Gauntlet tournaments.

She stopped in her tracks. Her mouth opened, but she didn’t know what to say. After a moment she took a few tentative steps further forward.

“You should see the Gauntlet, Codi,” Vasco said, his voice subdued. “A hundred thousand people watching your every move. The atmosphere…it’s a like nothing you’ve ever felt before. The arena, even the planet itself, it’s incredible.”

“You were in the Gauntlet, weren’t you?” she asked quietly.

He glanced over his shoulder at her, smiling. “Yes I was.”

“Were you good?”

“I was pretty good.” He looked back and gestured to the screen. “That’s me there. A long time ago now.”

“Which Gauntlet is this?”

“The second.” Vasco paused the recording. “I was in the semi-final against a brute called Baryon LaGrange. Nobody realised he was hopped up on military grade combat drugs. He broke my leg in four places. I never competed again.” He shook his head. “I wish you could have gone there, kid.”

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