Chapter 24 - People Skills

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 No amount of training, exercise regimen or even military boot camp could have readied Codi for the latest challenge the Gauntlet had thrown her way. Taking deep breaths, she tried to calm the nerves roaring through her body and clamped her hands tightly together behind her back.

Standing on her left, Max looked at her and managed a weak smile, but she could tell he was no more suited to their current situation than she was. When Vasco had told them what was coming she’d almost been sick.

A press conference.

She’d seen enough of them on tele-screens before, poor individuals being belaboured with questions, assaulted by flashing cameras and having every word they spoke come back and hit them like a boomerang. She wasn’t afraid of anyone in the tournament; not even Bruno Varlin could instil the abject horror she felt right now. Modestly, Codi considered herself the least diplomatic individual in existence, so getting hung out to dry in front of a swarm of journalists was a catastrophe waiting to happen.

She glanced at Max who stood beside her with his hands in his pockets and made another embarrassing realisation that the pair of them stood out from the crowd, owing to their lack of uniform. The remaining competitors had been split into four groups of eight before going into the jaws of the media, and Codi’s group had the unenviable task of going first. The six other competitors wore the respective team tracksuits, or hooded tops, or jackets, whatever it may be. All in all, it just added to the sense that she and Max didn’t belong.

She recognised a couple of the faces though. Brya Stone, the girl from Orion who had been in her Mayhem and the young Battlecast fighter who’d been with Varlin during their altercation in the lobby. She’d since learned his name was Chris O’Leary, and he was the fastest up-and-coming fighter, looking to take Varlin’s place once the veteran retired. Thankfully, there was one friendly face.

From across the group Kye smiled broadly at her, his impregnable shield of easy calm holding up even now. It was infuriating, but she still managed to give him a small mock salute. He made an imitation mouth with one hand and gave an impression of someone jabbering while he rolled his eyes. She stifled a laugh and looked away.

Taking a deep breath, Codi lowered her gaze to the floor and tried in vain to calm her nerves. Why? Why did this of all things fill her with such terror? After all, it was just words, wasn’t it?

But she had no idea what to expect. Vasco had given scant thought to the matter, putting all his focus into getting the fighters through the stages first. When the press conferences arrived he’d been just as unprepared. And there was a lot more going on than simply giving the audience a better look at the competitors. Codi discovered with some trepidation that she and Max were about to cross into the business side of the Gauntlet.

She now began to understand just why Brax-Delta had declined so badly over the years. There seemed to be a complex structure of sponsorships, subsidies and advertisement that went in tandem with the fighting itself. Brax-Delta, in failing to perform, had lost its clout in that particular area. Other minnow academies like Zulu Forge didn’t need to perform because they’d be subsidised by the larger local academies that used them as a testing ground for recruits. A fringe planet like Kantha had no such network of support. So the academy had underperformed consistently; the money had gradually been sucked out, and now Brax-Delta was, for all intents and purposes, liquidated. She and Max were all that remained of Kantha’s presence on the interstellar stage.

Now they were about to go out into the jaws of it all. The performance of the team had obviously turned some heads, but Codi had only barest bones of knowledge that covered the administrative side of things. If any questions regarding finance, sponsorship or frankly, the future, were put she didn’t have a clue what to say.

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