Chapter 67 – Tactics
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"Up onto the roof! Move, move, move!" Mike watched Spencer, Tracy and Woodrow scale the house, then lifted himself and Srinivas after them. He landed amidst the group. "For our next training exercise, you are going to be breaking up into teams. Spencer and Tracey are team one. Srinivas and Woodrow are team two. I will be acting as the enemy kinetic. The tactic 'anti-kinetic one' is to use a brain blast to temporarily incapacitate the kinetic, then perform a brain push to take him out permanently. Be mindful of your ranges. We just spent an hour figuring out effective distances, so there is no excuse for friendly fire. Any questions?"

Tracy raised her hand. "Why can't we call it meme blast?"

"Because that technique already has a name," he said.

"It is a little misleading," Spencer said. "A brain push is a killing move, but a brain blast causes no lasting harm?"

Mike looked up at the sky. "Fine. Meme blast. Whatever. Is everyone ready to begin the training exercise?"

Woodrow reclined further onto the shingles. "I need a break before we do anything else."

"An enemy kinetic is attacking, Woodrow, we don't have time for a break."

The old man's expression soured. "I'm in my sixties. I can't keep this up."

"You're old. Tracy's a woman. Srinivas is a soft office worker. So what? You're all soldiers now. We're a five person army that might need to spring into action at any time. There are terrorist kinetics for us to take down and a whole fleet that would be happy if we disappeared."

"A motivational speech doesn't change the fact that I'm old," Woodrow grumbled.

"Yesterday you were bragging that you swam laps for an hour every morning at the YMCA," Mike replied.

"An hour. Not the whole damn day long. Not sleeping on cots, either."

"Come on, Woodrow, can't you hang with a fake National Guard soldier?"

Woodrow shrugged. "I could have when I was younger."

"Too bad they never called your draft number, right? You would have turned the tide of war yourself."

"I had a student deferment," Woodrow said.

Mike folded his arms. "And you gave me shit about my service?"

"What did you do that was so impressive? Did anyone ever shoot at you?"

"I lived on a base that received regular mortar attacks."

Woodrow's answering sniff conveyed how unimpressed he was.

"His wife died on convoy from a road side bomb," Spencer said.

The disdain drained from Woodrow's face. The old man squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. "I'm sorry I said anything. I understand why you are touchy about the topic."

Mike waved the apology away. "My job is to train you so that you don't die on the first mission Marius sends us on. I'm probably not qualified. I was never a drill sergeant or an officer. I pushed paperwork and was busted down in rank for unprofessional behavior. But I'm the guy in charge, so I have to give it my best effort. Right now, we need to cram as much training as possible into every day. So none of us get a break. I'm sorry, but that's how it is."

"And if I refuse? Are you going to hit me again?"

"No," Mike said. "If you can't fight as part of the team, then I will train you to the role of bait. Not a job I would want to have. Your choice, though."

Woodrow climbed to his feet, mumbling something that sounded uncharitable.

After that, they went through the training exercise. For each round, one of the teams pursued Mike on a chase before triangulating their positions so that they were on opposite sides of him, then the noetic on the team would perform a meme blast. Protected by his mindvasting, Mike faked being incapacitated while the other person on the attacking team would strike him with an object -- the reasoning being that they couldn't trust a meme blast to disrupt their enemies enough to allow for strikes to the head. Mike allowed the rocks, tree branches, paving stones, and television antenna to zoom close to his head before intercepting them with his talent.

He did five rounds with each team before bringing everyone out at the same time. That alteration threw off the coordination they had previously developed and the novice soldiers constantly got in one another's way. It took several rounds before Spencer decided to start calling out orders to coordinate their efforts. By the time they managed a clean victory, everyone was exhausted. They sat in a circle to go through an after action review of the exercise. Mike required everyone to provide at least one positive and one negative of the team's performance as a whole, then do the same for themselves as an individual member. The feedback proved consistent, whether from a consensus on their mistakes and strengths or from lazy minds quick to latch onto an answer that would get the spotlight off of them. The positive takeaways were their target encircling and their rapid weapon improvisation for the head bashing. The areas they saw as needing improvement were catching their target in the first place and coordinating their attack timing.

They took an hour break for a late lunch then. Mike spent most of the time clearing residue and piling it together. After a quick bite to eat, he went outside to give the others some time unsupervised. Back when he had been a sergeant, he had been told by one of his comrades that sometimes he should give his subordinates time without him to decompress. They needed a chance to relax without the boss watching their every move. Maybe even a chance to complain about or practice their silly impressions of the guy they reported to.

While in the weed-overgrown driveway, Mike found himself drawn to the row of cars. After making sure no one was watching, he filled himself with as much animas as he could handle and reached out with his corona to encompass the entire base of his vehicle. With a mighty effort, he pushed the rusty Accord into the sky. It rocked on its wheels a moment. Mike's brow drew down in concentration and he poured forth more effort. The car lifted up to float with its tires at the height of his head. A fierce smile welled up from his heart to fix itself on his face.

"Holy shit, look at Mike lifting a damn car!" The voice belonged to Tracy. Mike did his best to not react to his audience, instead slowly lowering his car to avoid snapping its suspension with a sudden drop. He took a deep breath and ironed the smile lines off his face before turning around to face the line of students.

"Looks like everyone is ready for more training. Hooah!" The expressions of excitement on their faces dropped at his exclamation, which brought him almost as much joy as lifting a car.