Chapter 2: Caity and Ryan
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Eagle’s Nest Training Facility. The United States of America.


Caity stumbled back a few steps before collapsing on the sparring mat. 

A full week has passed since she joined Section X. After that, she had a chance to go back home and talk to her parents about her choice. 

Joining the program didn't mean she was completely cut off by the rest of the world. Plus, if she never went back to her parents, she swore they would call the police and, if that failed, every news media available in the nation. 

Needless to say, the Hunters were furious. To them, no amount of money could justify willingly sending their daughter into danger. Yet in the end, there was nothing they could do but give in and tell Caity to be careful. They promised that despite what the Section X agents said, if she wanted out, they would do whatever it took to make that happen, even if it meant going to the media and exposing this entire thing to the public. 

If Caity said she wasn’t touched by those promises, she would be wrong. Of course, she knew that could never really happen. A writer and a nurse couldn’t take on a mysterious government agency of unchecked power. For now, she had to stay with Project Phasewalker. 

For now, she had to remain as a Phasewalker. 

What happened next was miserable for her, not because Section X turned against its promises. In fact, it didn't even hesitate to wire Caity’s parents $2,500 on the spot. But at the same time, they did exactly what they promised: they trained her. 

Section X handled Caity’s high school, thereby making it possible to keep her in an unknown facility 100% of the time, and they definitely made the best use of her time. When Caity got her schedule, she realized it was filled from 5 in the mourning, where she would get up, to 10 at night, where she had to go to bed. Every day, she had to do fitness, weaponry, melee, and tactical training. 

Even worse, personal belongings like her phone and her laptop were locked up as soon as she got onto campus to keep them from being distractions. If she wanted to use technology, she had to use the encrypted devices given to her by Section X, where a lot of content was blocked. She couldn’t even look at how her friends were doing on social media! That was ridiculous!

What pushed her one more step to the edge was that she was training around all the other recruits. Most of the recruits in the camp were in here longer than her, which meant they were better at everything. If she was competing with adults, then fine, but it didn't take her long to realize all the Phasewalker recruits here were teenagers not much younger or older than her. 

When a bunch of teenagers was put together with nothing to do but punching, kicking, and shooting stuff, friction was bound to rise. Already, Caity has been mocked on by six different recruits. Three times at weapon training, when she has never shot a gun before and completely missed the target with her M4A1. Two times in hand-to-hand combat training. The last time, she almost passed out after doing too much running. 

A brunette recruit called Patricia or something was practically laughing her face off when the drill sergeants came over and tended to Caity.

Caity didn't like the drill sergeants. They were tall, unsympathetic men and women who would bark at her at every move. Fail to assemble your weapon properly? 20 pushups! Fail to answer a question in tactical training? That’s 15 for you, lady! Didn't make your bed properly after you got up? 20 to start the day! 

She had to admit. When she was first added to the program, she had high hopes for herself. She imagined herself accomplishing great things and returning to her family and friends a heroine. At night, or whenever she closed her eyes, she fantasized about kicking ass and saving the day as the protagonists do in those Netflix shows she watched. Who knows? Maybe with all the ass-kicking, she could find herself a boyfriend for the first time?

The reality was much crueler, and a week into training was all that took to show her there was no victory and reward, at least not now. All that existed were sweat, blood, and quite a lot of tears. 

“Come on Caity, you have to keep your eyes open!” The sparring instructor cried. He was a man at least six feet two. His short, gray hair only made him more intimidating to the young recruits, a trait he seemed to enjoy. He nodded at the victor in the sparring before pointing at two more recruits. “Hemley! Jack! You’re up!”

Caity slowly moved off the mat and found herself a better spot to collapse on. Normally, if she was hit like that, she would just lay down on the mat without a care for the world, but there were at least 50 other recruits sitting around in the session, observing the fight and waiting for their chance. She still needed some face, for god’s sake!

“Why are they even making us spar? Don’t we have guns?” The blonde complained at a volume she was sure the drill sergeant couldn’t hear, which was only fair because the drill sergeant wouldn’t be afraid of making her pay for her words. “We’re working with a top-secret government agency, for Christ’s sake! Can they not spare a few automatic rifles to bring over the Portal?”

A boy beside her turned over, glanced at her like she was an idiot, before turning back. 

Again, normally Caity was a sweet girl, but she has had her pride hurt enough times for the week. Instead of sitting back as if nothing happened, she snapped at the boy. 

“What? Did I say something so fucking funny?” 

The boy turned back to her. “No.”

“Then why did you look at me like that?”

“I just have different opinions, that’s all.” The boy said quietly. 

“Yeah? Well, shoot!” Caity pushed on. Frankly speaking, she knew very well she wasn’t in the right state of mind. The boy did nothing wrong, and she was just unleashing her anger on him. He didn't deserve any of this, but for a moment, she just couldn’t stop. 

“First of all, the sparring isn’t just to teach us how to fight after we lose our guns. It is to teach us persistence. The entire thing, looking your opponent in the eye and trading blows with him or her until one of you is on the ground. It helps build up your inner strength. Also, if you can’t take a punch to the face, then this is not the place for you.”

“Easy for you to say.” Caity snickered. “What’s the second point?”

“The second point is, your guns aren’t attached to your body. Sooner or later, you will put it down. Your fists, on the other hand…” 

“Ryan!” The instructor suddenly called out. Caity snapped around. She was so attracted by the boy that she didn't realize when they were talking, the dual on the mat has already ended. The boy named Hemley won. Jack was tending to a bloody nose. A trail of blood drops followed him as he walked out of the sparring room and toward the bathroom. 

She didn't realize who the instructor was calling before the boy she was talking to suddenly stood up and walked to the middle of the map. 

The instructor pointed at him. 

“Ryan here has just been accepted into the Special Forces major! He’s the first Special Forces major among you! So, who wants to test him out today?”

The recruits looked at each other before one of them suddenly stood up. 

“I will!”

The instructor grinned inside. If there was something good with having teenage soldiers, it was that they never lacked courage. That was not to say adults were less brave, but adults tended to think more before acting. But he didn't let that appreciation show on his face. Someone at his position needed authority. 

“That’s not enough! Anyone else?” 

The recruits looked at each other in awe. This was the first time the instructor went outside the bounds of 1 vs 1. 

Ryan’s face was calm and collected. There wasn’t any movement in his eyes, as if he wasn’t impressed by what the instructor said at all. 

“I will join in!” 

“And me!”

A boy and a girl raised their hands. Both were tall individuals. The instructor finally nodded and agreed. The crowd watched in anticipation as the three recruits marched onto the mat and slowly surrounded Ryan. 

As soon as the instructor ordered the sparring session to begin, the three recruits carefully approached Ryan from all three sides, utilizing their numbers to its full advantage. 

Ryan stood there silently. Suddenly, he lowered his body and leaped toward the boy on the right. His right leg stepped forward, clashing against the soft mat. 

The boy on the right immediately stood still and lowered his center of gravity in a defensive stance. The girl in the middle moved to reinforce him. 

But they were both fooled. Ryan’s feet landed on the ground at an angle, and before the two recruits knew it, he was on top of the boy on the left. His target was completely caught by surprise when Ryan’s knee came crashing into his stomach. The sudden burst of pain caused him to bend over, right into an uppercut. 

As that boy flew off the mat, clutching onto his stomach in pain, Ryan turned around and rammed into the girl in the middle with his full body. It took the boy on the far right a few seconds to realize what happened. Once he did, he was consumed by a fear of ending up like the first boy. It was brief, but that brief moment was enough for Ryan to knock over his second opponent. 

At that point, everything was too late. 

“Very well,” The instructor rarely handed out some praise, which made this a lot more impressive. “Ryan here knew he couldn’t play defensive with three opponents. Three people combined have more strength than a single person, no matter how strong that person is. So he did the smart thing and divided his enemies with a false move.”

As the instructor called two other recruits up the mat, Ryan quietly sat back down beside Caity. There was no sign of accomplishment on his face. 

“Are you not happy?” Caity couldn’t help but ask. 

“I am.” 

“You’re not smiling.” 

“I didn't know it was made into the law that people who are happy have to be smiling.” 

“Haha.” Caity grinned. “Very funny. Strong and hilarious. You must be popular with the girls.” 

Ryan shrugged, but his eyes were still trained on the mat. Yet, it was destined that he wouldn’t get to watch a match quietly because Caity was insistent on starting a conversation. Whatever grumpiness she had was turned into curiosity after watching Ryan fight.

“So, Special Forces, huh? What does that mean?” 

Ryan paused for a moment before turning around and explaining. 

“After two weeks here, you will be called before General Kennedy and your instructors and assigned a major, a specialization. Some people are artillery majors. This means they’ll be handling artillery units or vehicles. Some people are pilots. Most people are just infantry major. I am Special Forces, which means I get special lessons from Special Forces instructors on things most recruits don’t need to know.”

General Kennedy was the head of Section X. Caity saw him once when he was giving a speech. Tall guy. Grey hair. Stern look. Caity didn't like him at all. 

“Oh…” Caity was suddenly a bit concerned. “I’ll probably just settle with infantry major.” 

“Actually, there are a number of other non-combat majors to choose from, if you really don’t like fighting.” Ryan shrugged. He added something else cautiously. “Don’t mean to be sexist or anything, but statistically speaking most girls choose non-combat majors. They become a non-combat medic or an accountant or a technician. I think that’s gonna fit you. If you’re going into those majors, you only needed minimum combat training.”

Caity nodded, slightly relieved. Suddenly, her eyes lingered on Ryan’s physique, and she couldn’t help but find herself getting a bit warmer. 

“Ummm...can you teach me how to fight? I really don’t want to get punched in the face again. I still have a week until I choose my major.” 

“You’ll always get punched in the face, more or less.” 

“Yeah, but not like that!” 

“Ok. Meet me here tomorrow during the recess period.” 

“But…” Caity paused. The recess period was a 1-hour period every day from 3 PM to 4 PM. This was perhaps the only period of time where the recruits had to do basically whatever they wished. The instructors didn't really care what they do as long as it wasn’t against the rules or the law. 

From time to time, Caity wondered with how tight the instructors made the rest of the schedule, why they would leave a full hour open, not that those doubts stopped her from taking advantage of the period for some fun time. 

What made it even better was that the recruits were allowed to venture out of the base. They didn't have the time to go too far, but Caity was still thinking about going out for a cup of coffee. Ah well...her eyes landed on Ryan’s body again before deciding maybe going for coffee one less time was totally worth it. 

The sparring session continued for twenty more minutes before the instructor called a halt. At that point, the group of recruits moved onto firearm training. 

The day passed smoothly. Caity was still trash at every category, but she was able to distract herself by keeping her eyes on Ryan and talking to her whenever she got the chance. Normally, the instructors would crash down mercilessly on anyone who didn't pay attention to what was being taught, but it seemed like they were a bit more lenient on Ryan. 

As the day was finally over, Caity laid down on her bed with one man in her mind. Ryan. She imagined his sweet, strong embrace. She imagined his hands and skin on her body. That made her excited. 

When there was no other distraction, people tended to resort back to the most basic human instinct.