Home > Uncategorized > Day Two Hundred and Thirty-six: Entrance Exam

Day Two Hundred and Thirty-six: Entrance Exam

Sarah’s fingers started to lose feeling as she clung to the edge of the platform. She tried to use her feet to lift herself higher, but the sides seem to have been coated with the same ultra-slippery coating that they’d put on the ramp far behind her. No friction, no super-speed, and in a few moments she would plunge into the water below.

And that would be the end of her career as a superhero.

Thousands of young people applied to be an official Sidekick with the Global Defenders every year. Of those thousands, hundreds were invited to take part in a rigorous week of exams, tests, and challenges. Of those hundreds, only twenty would be chosen.

Her fingers slipped again, and she whimpered. Any further and she’d be out of the running permanently.

The obstacle course was the most famous part of the test, and the only one that anyone really knew about going in. It started in a vast gymnasium, five kids at a time. Each one had to follow their color-coded track through the room and out into an individually-tailored course. The Global Defenders would provide obstacles that were designed to test each particular applicant’s special power or ability, and failing the course usually meant being kicked out of the trials.

Sarah’s course had started off as a racetrack from hell. When the gun sounded, and the other four students were still getting started, Sarah was already off and running. The track twisted and bent and spun, with a helical loop-the-loop just close enough to the start that she wasn’t sure she could build up enough speed.

She’d made it through, though, and headed for the ramp. There was a gap of about fifty feet, and if she hit the end of the ramp fast enough, she would have cleared the gap easily. But the ramp had been coated, made so slippery that she lost her footing and her speed. She was still going fast, but just barely fast enough. She flew off the end of the ramp, hurtled through the air, and landed arms-first on the other side.

She tried not to look down as her grip slipped again. “No, no, no, no,” she said to herself. Her feet scrabbled against the wall, but nothing happened. She forced herself to breathe slowly, to think about her options. She was a fast thinker, too. Another benefit of super-speed. No matter how fast she thought, though, she couldn’t get ahead of the panic that threatened to engulf her. Another few inches and the dream she’d had since she was a child would be gone.

A howl crawled its way out of her throat as she slipped again and felt her grip come free of the platform. She dropped – and landed on something solid a moment later. Sarah looked down and saw that she was standing on a tall pillar of ice that had risen from the water below.

“Got ya!” Sarah turned to look at the only person it could have been. Claire skidded to a stop on the ice bridge she was using to get across the room, a broad smile crossing her pale face. She waved. “Gotta be more careful, roomie!” she said. A fine mist formed around her hand, and the ice pillar started to rise until it brought Sarah to the edge of the platform.

Once Sarah was out of danger, Claire swept herself off to continue her own course. The two had been assigned as roommates when they arrived at the Global Defenders’ headquarters, and they’d become friends almost immediately. This was the first time they were actually in competition with each other, though. If Sarah had dropped, Claire would have a slightly better chance of getting in.

She shook her head. Enough wasting time. Whatever Claire wanted to do was up to her. Maybe she’d buy her an ice cream later to say thanks.

Sarah hopped on her toes for a moment and took off.

In an instant, she was out of the vast main obstacle room, following the red line that led her through the course on her way through a featureless corridor that seemed to go on forever, even at her speed. She was slightly surprised when the wall started sprouting barriers, when sections of the floor rose and dropped just before she got to them, when hidden guns started to fire beanbags at her from the walls and ceiling. With her reflexes cranked up, they weren’t all that hard to avoid. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion, and she sidestepped, ducked, and jumped in all the right places.

There was another jump, this time a lot longer than the first, and she felt her heart skip. If this was was treated the way the last one was, she’d probably go flying right off the edge and into the water. On the other hand, if she slowed down then she’d do the same, treated or not. Sarah gritted her teeth and poured on the speed. The air around her seemed to turn slippery and oily as it slid over her skin, held back from killing her by some strange feature of her powers that she’d never fully understood.

As she shot out over the dark, cold water below, she realized that she was howling – a long, keening scream that trailed behind her like a slipstream. She seemed to hang in the air forever, watching the far platform inch towards her at an impossibly slow speed.

The impact went all the way through her as she landed, and it was a moment before she took off again.

The track curved and looped. There was a maze that shifted and changed as she ran it, and a route that made her skip across the water’s surface like a flat river stone.

Finally, she came to the final room. It was a small chamber with a button on a pedestal, and all she had to do was press the button. She stepped forward…

A curtain of violet energy dropped down around her. It shimmered and hummed, and when she tried to go through it, she got a mild shock for her troubles. The emitter was far above her, a small glowing panel embedded in the high ceiling, out of her reach.

“Damn,” she said, and she could hear her voice quaver. She had come so far, and she could see the end in front of her. She hit the field with the flat of her hand, and the jolt traveled through her arm.

This was the end of a long, long dream. Her powers had started when she was a child, much to the consternation of her parents, and all she’d ever wanted to do was to be a super-hero. To be one of those colorful servants of justice that made the world a better place, and what better place to learn how to do it than here? The Global Defenders had fought off everything from bank robbers to international terrorists to alien armadas, and the graduates of their Sidekick program had gone on to great super-hero careers of their own.

It was all she’d ever wanted, and a thin sheet of energy was all that was keeping her from getting there.

The signs of panic were pretty clear. She was breathing hard, she could feel her heart beating in her chest. Her eyes were watering and ready to overflow, but she kept telling herself that super-heroes didn’t cry. They never cried. And for a moment, she thought that the flickering of the force field was just an illusion, a distortion caused by the tears.

When she wiped her eyes away, though, she could see it – the emitter was flickering and strobing. She took a breath to calm down, and the effect went away.

That was enough to tell her what she needed to know.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Okay,” she said. She looked up – the emitter seemed to be glowing with a nice constant light, but as she stared at it, she thought to herself, Faster. Faster…

The emitter began to flicker faintly, and she concentrated on those gaps, those intermittent pauses. As she did, they became longer – in reality only fractions of a fraction of a second, but she stretched them out and slowed them down until they became a regular pulse. The energy curtain blinked in and out of existence as well, more and more slowly until she could actually see it flow downward from the emitter, like water cascading off a rooftop, only to cut off and vanish into the floor.

Sarah counted to herself – three, two… One.

She stepped through the gap in the curtain of light, walked up to the button and pressed it. The emitter shut down and lights in the ceiling came on, and Sarah could feel her concentration give way. Time seemed to resume its normal flow as the wall in front of her slid upwards, revealing a reception room.

Somehow, Claire was already there. “How’d you…?”

Claire shrugged. “I guess I don’t waste time like some people,” she said, winking.

It was clear that the rest of their group had failed the test. A hologram flickered to life in the center of the room. It was one of the Global Defenders, a young man who called himself Detour. He was able to create wormholes to move from place to place almost instantly. “Good work,” he said. The hologram seemed bigger than life size, and he stood looking down on them, strong arms crossed in front of a broad chest. “We would like to remind you both, however,” he said, seeming to look right at Claire as he spoke, “that these tests are to measure your individual abilities. Wishing to help each other is admirable, but not part of the test. Do it again, Miss Carrington, and you’ll be out.”

Claire looked down at the floor. “Yessir,” she said.

Detour smiled. “Head back to your dormitory,” he said. “Get some rest. The final round begins tomorrow.” The hologram blinked out, and the kids started to move.

“I’m glad you got through,” Sarah said. “But you shouldn’t’ve risked your chances to help me.”

Claire shrugged. “It seemed like the right thing to do,” she said. Then she grinned and put her arm around Sarah’s shoulders. “That’s what heroes do, right?”

Sarah nodded, and they walked together towards the dormitory.

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