Not even the Egineereds were immune from having sweaty hands and tired muscles, after all.
"I thought," a male voice said in a lazy, Spanish-accented drawl, "that Epsilons were supposed to be graceful."
The boy hanging from the monkey-bars on the track beside hers was one of the transfers from Barcelona; a few months younger than her, a Gamma if the rumours were to be credited, and he was sneering at her. Sasha rolled over and got to her feet without ever using her hands, dirty and shaking slightly, with her brown hair sticking to her neck and face. A deep breath in, a deep breath out, and she consciously stilled the shaking.
“How many times have you done the course today?”
He dropped down lightly -- too lightly for someone of his frame - and dusted off his hands.
"Seventh time since midday break," he said easily. "I guess we Gammas are better designed for stamina."
She tilted her head, slightly, and brushed some of her hair back.
“The last point isn’t very polite. Besides. Gracefulness needs work, little boy.”
"Soldiers aren't required to be polite, where I come from. I've seen you around, you know."
"And?" Her voice was very soft, very polite.
"You're a doll." The way he said it, it wasn't a compliment. "You're one of the earlier Epsilons, aren't you? Damn near the Delta generation, and everyone knows what happened to all the Deltas last year. Are they sure you're not tainted? You sure act like a Delta."
Sasha just regarded him with large, unblinking dark eyes. “Because I act…how?”
"Like a doll." Again, he made the simple word sound like an insult. He reached out and flicked her between the eyes. "There's nothing going on in there, is there? You think like a person and you move like a person, but there's no higher emotion in there. I read the files on the Deltas. They should've put you down when they terminated the rest of them."
Her hand moved. For all her poise, she was what she was, and that meant she was fast, so her fingers tightened around his wrist – just there, at the very end of the arm-bones.
“Nothing? I can think. I can feel. And robots can’t do either.”
And he laughed at her.
"You're a Delta freak, and you're flawed. Termination's all you've got to look forward to."
Sasha studied him, and let him go. She didn’t turn her back on him, but she had about five minutes before the boy behind her arrived, and it was a fair way out and, yes, even as she took a step back she was thinking and watching and searching the ground.
"Scared, Delta? I didn't think you knew how to be," he jeered, taking an all-too-light step towards her. "Why don't we see if I can make you an Epsilon for a few minutes?"
"Emotion, Delta. I'm curious as to whether you can feel it at all. I'm sure I'll find out."
He lifted a hand, and a rock lifted off the ground beside him.
"Ever fought a psychokinetic? Your so-called enhanced abilities won't be much good against a ranged opponent."
She didn’t reply; at least, not in words. What she did do was twist her body and lunge towards the base of the bars and the tools that the workmen had left (budget cuts, outsourced technicians, and they’d been watching the Engineered girls too much to remember) and, there.
"Oh, she's got somefight in her!" he crowed, drifting closer. "This will be fun."
You are being contradictory, she thought for a moment, but just a moment because he was gamma, and that rock could be a problem. Still half-twisted from him, Sasha straightened and spun, and used the momentum to send the spanner flashing towards his head. She was Epsilon, and quicker than him; he crumpled, the rock thudding heavily to the dirt.
And it wasn’t true, that she couldn’t feel emotion. As he crumpled, she could feel the hot, sick flush of disappointment. And he was creepy, sadistic with a smile and oh, yes, had they tested him, too?
Four and a half minutes, so the girl nodded to herself, went down on one knee, raised the spanner and slammed it down on his temple as hard as she could.
The sick crack of bone only held for two minutes before being replaced by wetter, duller sounds, and then there were hands on her arms, pulling her upright. Strong hands pulled the spanner out of her grip, she heard someone barking orders to get a medic, and then she was spun around and facing Dr. Remoray, the man in charge of her group.
"Sasha, Sasha, what have you done this time?"
Her face splattered with blood, she just shook her head. "I didn't start it."
"I'm sure you didn't." His tone, at least, said that he believed that much, and he sighed, turning her away from the mess that used to be a Gamma. "There'll be a disciplinary hearing all the same; soldiers cannot just kill each other. You do understand, little one?"
She glanced over her shoulder, and stumbled. Still, she didn’t fall, and that helped her pride.
Remoray sighed again, sliding his arm around her shoulders.
"Come with me, Sasha, we'll get you cleaned up. I'm afraid you'll be under house arrest until the hearing. Two-Eight-Seven Gamma wasn't good news, but you cannot just kill people who displease you. But you're young, and this is a first offense; I hope they'll be lenient."
This time when she went still, it wasn’t from poise or calculation, but something that could pass for fear. She kept walking, though – his arm made sure of that.
“They wouldn’t kill me.”
"No, they won't," he assured her. "You're a good soldier, you just slipped up. They won't kill you for that. Just come with me, and I'll do what I can."
Sasha nodded. They, anonymous and stern, she didn’t know about; he, she trusted. “How long?”
"Not more than a few days, depending on who's on the disciplinary committee this month. I'll be disqualified because you're in my group, but I can speak for you, and I will." He gave her a brief, sincere smile. "It's not the end of the world, Sasha. You'll be disciplined, and you'll be able to get back to work. I honestly doubt they'll be too severe over a first offense, and Two-Eight-Seven Gamma was a bad apple."
A quick smile, delighted and impish and it looked wrong with the blood.
“He was going to throw a rock at me.”
"I'm sure he was going to do worse than throw one rock," Remoray said heavily, as the approached the compound proper and he steered her towards the barracks where Engineereds who were waiting for disciplinary hearings were housed. "Come on. We'll get you cleaned up and talk about your defense."