Eric stepped through surprisingly thorny bushes lining the walkway leading to the back door into the somewhat decrepit (and officially condemned) Liberal Arts Assembly Hall. Eric, assuming tardiness, crept silently down the wooden hallway, feeling like a sneak-thief entering an ancient manor. Based on what little Eric knew about architecture, this building most likely was built prior to the Collapse, and also undoubtably built elsewhere, moved here by one of the many ‘rescue’ attempts his first foster parents had always complained of. Shortly after the Collapse, when Eric was still a young child, he had seen his foster father run outside with his shotgun to threaten away repo-men, who had come to take away the town’s historic courthouse. The government forces had easily pushed back the town’s militia, and the courthouse had been dismantled and taken away by the following morning. With so much of the country still without rule of law, several factions of the newly reformed United States government had taken it upon themselves to bring all the country’s ‘resources’ to safety in the functioning cities. Although Eric hadn’t understood their decision at the time, he did now appreciate his opportunity to enjoy this relic of a time now past, which he knew he most likely wouldn’t have been able to experience otherwise; much of the country was still mostly inaccessible today, much like it had been in his youth.
As Eric turned the corner at the end of the hallway, he began to hear voices coming from a large oaken door several meters away. The door seemed to be lined with a glowing light, a faint blue glow painting the walls with faint silhouettes. Eric pulled out his RD, a simple clunky model he had purchased from money he’d earned working at nearby farms back ‘home’, and quickly checked the map the Academy had provided him. It seemed that door was where the exam was supposed to be held, so Eric walked purposefully towards it, feeling the confidence Omar had instilled in him re-buoy his spirits.
He opened the door, and stopped before stepping directly into an opaque wall of bluish light. It nearly crackled with unleashed energy, raising the hairs on Eric’s arms. As Eric stood there stupefied, an arm exited the wall of energy, and pulled Eric directly through it. Eric barely muffled a startled yelp as he felt a faint tingle wash over him, a disorienting feeling of being pulled apart then put back together again left him feeling disoriented as he attempted to comprehend what had just happened.
“Hey!” Eric had to glance around before discovering the source of the overwhelmingly cheery voice, a couple feet below his head and directly in front of him stood a very small woman with a mane of dyed redish gold hair, lending her a lion-like appearance, “My name is Professor Stone, though feel free to just call me Taylor, I’m the guidance counciler for this Academy campus, and I teach several courses as well.” She finished this statement with a cheery smile, a look of expectancy on her face.
“My name is Eric, I’m, um, here for the exam?” Eric felt as if his tongue was stumbling over itself, his confidence having fled his conciousness while all this absurdity happened around him.
“Shit, those fuckers changed the plan again!” The flash of rage in the eyes of Professor Stone matched the incredibly vehement tone of her voice, altogether creating a stark contrast with the speaker’s small stature, “Well, there’s definitely space in the exam for you, but you will be the last student to take these exams since you’ll be starting later than the rest of the group.” With these words, she quickly turned toward one of six doorways in the room gesturing Eric for to follow.
The room into which Eric stepped was entirely was cavernous, with no possibility of fitting in the building he had entered. It was entirely made of what looked to be metal, though no seams were visible anywhere, with a single door at the opposite end, a large screen sitting above it with a name and score columns which looked to be nearly full already. A group of young people, clearly students like himself, milled around outside the opposite door. Most seemed to be anxiously staring at the screen above the door, while others spoke quietly to eachother in small groups.
Professor Stone pushed Eric gently towards the other students, softly speaking to him as she did, “They’ll call your name when it’s your turn for this first test, but don’t worry while you wait. Just remember what Omar told you.” With these words, the small Professor turned and walked back through the doorway, leaving Eric to move forwards towards the waiting crowd, confused as to how the professor knew of what he and Omar had spoken of.
* * * * *
Joe’s hands flew to his gauntlet moments before the stun wand’s charge struck him, and reality shifted as he kicked in his emergency temporal jump sequence. He felt himself settle back into himself ten seconds earlier, his hand quickly reaching forward to lock the bathroom door. Moments later, Joe heard the handle rattle from the security guard’s attempts to open the door. He wracked his brain for a solution to this situation that didn’t require him to make yet another jump, Joe knew he needed most of his remaining power supply to go towards the rest of the exam, and temporal jumps took a lot of power out of his nearly empty gauntlet, which he had been planning to charge before this unfortunate test had begun.
“Open up in there, you’ve been identified as an unauthorized entry!” The security guard pounded on the door, his voice loud, yet flat and expressionless. Eric sighed, slowly unlocking the door as the most pragmatic plan came to his mind, though he regretted the necessity. The guard tried the door again, quickly beginning to open it now that it was no longer locked. The second the door began to crack open, Eric quickly yanked the door open throwing the guard off balance. Eric snapped his other hand directly between the guard’s nose and lips, causing the man’s eyes to widen in shocked pain, as Eric pivoted and snapped his leg up, firing off a kick against the mans head. The guard stumbled into the bathroom wall, the kick having rendered him unconscious, and slid to the floor in an awkward heap.
“I’m sorry brother, but I have much left to do, and not enough power left to do it. At least your company will probably give you some paid leave for this.” Joe gave the slumbering guard, a wry smile on his lips, and little regret in his eyes as he turned away to leave. He left the bathroom, heart filled with happiness at the perfect excuse to ditch the ridiculous clothing he now wore. It wouldn’t do to leave any evidence of his misbehavior, and he doubted the Academy exam supervisors would even hear of this incident.