Training Session 3 of 5 Prose in Tales of Justice | World Anvil

Training Session 3 of 5

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2003; 1430 EST
Participants: Paul (Vigilante), Jerry (Moleculon), Tom (Silverwing), Robert (Mime), Jarissa (Feral)
Scenario: Setup as forested atmosphere, twilight-level lighting, with clearing near exit door. Clearing contains steel cage, 20' nylon rope, packaged parachute (green), 50lb bag sawdust. Target subject (Feral) allowed entry into training room twenty minutes ahead of other participants, in order to familiarize with layout; target may not interfere with contents of clearing during this preparation time. Other participants (Vigilante, Moleculon, Silverwing, Mime) presented with stated goal at end of preparation time and permitted entry.
Stated Goal: Timed competition. Trap target subject (Feral) in allotted time.
Indirect Goals: 1. Psychological experiment: Will the subjects assume they are competing against each other, or only against Jarissa's ability to anticipate and avoid their snares? What insight into Jarissa's mindset does each participant possess? What insight into her opponents' methods has Jarissa developed that will allow her to evade them? 2. Skill development: Practice strategy and time-allotment in conception, development, and execution of task. Identify and determine useful weaknesses in opponent's defenses. Find inventive and unexpected uses for available materials. Practice stress control in high-tension scenarios. 3. Burn off some of the excess energy and ego that has been in recent evidence.
Time Limit: One hour maximum.
Notes: Must watch the tempers on this group. Jerry and Jarissa seem to have agreed that the exercise is little more than an elaborate game of hide-and-seek/freeze tag, but the other three range from muted to militant in their opening reactions. No discussion was allowed among participants before end of preparation time.

Jarissa: I could wish the room had better air flow. If something's moving, it's generally me; I can't disguise my passage as a breeze through the underbrush. I also can't pick up sound and scent more easily by staying downwind – but they can't avoid my senses by using air flow against me, either.

Gironde: Interesting. {makes notes}

Gironde: All right, that's your opening impression of the environment. What was your opening impression of your opponents?

Jarissa: {looks to one side, tail twitching} Paul is such a jerk.

The four men entered the training room with varying degrees of apparent caution. Vigilante scanned the edges of the clearing briefly before turning his attention to the supplies. Mime adapted his form to climb up the frame of the door momentarily; he took advantage of the bird's eye view to make a more thorough assessment.
Moleculon craned his head back. "What god-like truths are made evident by your lofty vantage?" he inquired cheerfully.
Flowing back to the ground, Mime answered shortly, "Feral's hiding in the trees."
Ignoring the faint snickers from Silverwing, Vigilante spoke up: "Did you see her?"
"Of course not," retorted the shapeshifter. "I saw trees. Leaves. A couple small patches of the ceiling, or the far walls. No movement, no suspicious shaking, no teeth, and no tail."
"Hey, poetry," Silverwing interjected. "'No teeth and no tail'. Do you mind if I use that?"
"Huh? Oh, sure, go ahead. It does sound kind of Shakespearean, doesn't it?" Mime answered, pleased.
"I was thinking more T. S. Elliot, the alliterative aspect is more reminiscent—"
Vigilante interrupted Silverwing brusquely. "Save the poetry discussion for English Lit, will you? We're on a time limit. Let's start designing an effective trap."
Now Moleculon was openly smiling. "Ah, illustrious Field Leader, your focus is overwhelming. Shall we divide the classes of corralment by their comprising comportment?"
The scowl on Vigilante's face grew darker. "If you have something useful, then say it – without the damned alliteration, and without straining the dictionary."
"He said that we should divide the kinds of traps by the way they work," Silverwing interpreted. "Is 'corralment' a word?"
Murmuring softly to the side, Moleculon said, "It is now; trademarked, patent applied for, notify Webster."
The older man decided to ignore the last exchange. "We have two options for traps: those that operate on the bait principle, and those that operate on the ambush principle. On the one hand, we have to assume that our target knows this area well, and will be very likely to notice suspicious changes to the environment. By working in concert, we might be able to drive her into an area where we have prepared a trap. Unfortunately, we would need a confined passage, someplace she would have little options in her actual path. From what I see here, we can't even force her to choose the ground over the trees, or vice versa, without majorly reworking the environment."
Silverwing nodded. "On the other hand, you haven't got bait that would draw her interest. Rissa's eaten, she's not in pain, and I saw her feed Grayson about twenty minutes ago."
Vigilante stopped. "Actually, I didn't see that as a problem. We have the bait, we just need the setup. I can't see how to disguise this metal cage to the point that she'll go for it. Instead, we'll set up a whole scenario: we'll give her the impression that we're competing against each other, and one trap caught the wrong target."
Mime held up one hand. "So that exposes one trap, and neutralizes one of her opponents for her. What makes Jarissa give it more than a second glance?"
Triumphantly, Vigilante jerked a thumb to his left. "We put the kid, here, in the cage."

Jerry: Now, we all know that Vigilante possesses brilliant abilities as a tactician. He has an unnerving instinct for picking out the most useful, understated weakness in each participant. His talent for systematically twisting those flaws to his own advantage is nigh-unequaled. Paul, however – and I do stress the difference between soldier and simple man – has very little use for, nor grasp of, the detailed complexities in inter-human relationships. Hence his own undoing.

Gironde: So, you see the collapse of the exercise as stemming from his analysis of their friendship?

Jerry: Not exactly. His theory that Jarissa would want to ascertain Tom's welfare, not to mention the means by which such a bright young man could find himself so confined, was sound. Vigilante obviously took into account that the target would still be suspicious, but that it is in her inherent nature to accept a certain amount of risk when balanced against concern and curiosity. Jarissa was not the participant whom Vigilante underestimated. The flaw in his plan, from my neutral observation, was that relationships are seldom one-sided.

"You want to put Silverwing in a cage, stand the cage out in the middle of the trees, bury the parachute underneath it, and pull an Endor on the whole thing?" Mime repeated incredulously.
"The silk's tough enough to take the initial swipe from her claws," Vigilante pointed out. "We've no worries that she'll seriously hurt Silverwing in the first instant; he'll be safe in the cage."
"Like hell I will."
"Okay, he zips out of the cage as the trap goes off and gets beyond the perimeter."
As though explaining the need for a doctor visit to a particularly dimwitted child, Silverwing gently corrected, "I will not be in the cage in the first place. Next plan, please."
Blinking, the older man stated, "I was not under the impression you had a problem with claustrophobia."
"I don't. In fact, I helped build that particular prop. The idea of being locked up doesn't exactly thrill me, but that's why 'going to jail' is considered a punishment."
Vigilante began to sound irate again. "Then what is the obstacle here?"
"The 'obstacle'," Silverwing replied, raising his voice slightly, "is the foundation of your whole trap. Jarissa has never left me in a cage. You're trying to use that against her – more exactly, you're trying to use me against her. You may see it as perfectly sensible, but from my end it's an abuse of our trust. If the target of this exercise weren't part of our team, you wouldn't think I'd make good bait. Come up with a trap that would work on Feral as a stranger, as an enemy, and I'm all for it – but this is betrayal."
"If the situation calls for it, I'll hunt down family, loved ones, best friends, even the family pet to serve as bait," Vigilante said coldly.
"Fine. But I'm not going to meekly follow along."
Mime made eye contact with Moleculon, then nodded his head briefly toward one corner of the clearing. They withdrew under pretense of examining the shrubbery.
"At this rate, they're going to run out of time before they run out of temper," Jerry suggested.
"Do you want to try something else, or just concede the exercise?"
"Robert, my good man, we can't miss this spectacle. Who would spread the gossip?"

Robert: I acceded his point mostly because neither one of us could come up with a plan that stood any chance of succeeding. I remember thinking that, if we had been after somebody in a real outdoor area, the noise from the argument would have warned off the target by then. I don't know if that was Tom's intention; I doubt it, since his voice never got much louder than we'd all been when we first walked in the door, but he sure did a spectacular job of hitting Paul's buttons. Usually Vigilante has more cool in his attitude than what we saw today. Instead, we got bluster and arrogance.

Gironde: You disagreed with his strategy, then.

Robert: It was a good idea. His argument about using a target's trusts against the target was very accurate. But when Silverwing refused to play along, I thought Vigilante should either switch to a Plan B, or knock Silverwing out for real and stuff him in the cage quick.

Gironde: Which of those options would you have chosen?

Robert: {silence}

Robert: I would have shoved them both in the cage, let them keep arguing, and built the trap around that.

Gironde: Interesting strategy. Would it have worked?

Robert: If I'd had the time left to set it up … I don't know. It might have. I'm glad I didn't find out.

Gironde: Why is that?

Robert: Fiberglass leaves big, achy bruises.

Vigilante tried a different tactic. "You will not participate in the means of capturing the target that offers minimal risk of injury to the target?"
"Not all injuries are physical. Let's turn it around: why don't we put you in the cage?"
"Because," Vigilante retorted heatedly, "the target won't give a damn."
"Exactly! Your plan only works if Rissa is willing to risk something she hates – namely, losing her freedom – in order to preserve the basic welfare of someone who is important to her." On the periphery of his vision, Silverwing saw a slow, cautious movement along the ground. He wasn't entirely certain what it was, but it seemed to be moving generally toward himself and Vigilante. "If your 'target' were an enemy or a stranger, Vigilante, you could use loves or trusts or needs and never have to deal with the results. But this is somebody who lives here, a person you see on a regular basis, and if she can't trust any of us to not cross over that line, then you're going to have a huge problem on your hands the next time we need to function as a team."
Taking a step forward, Vigilante snapped, "You're making a mountain out of a molehill here, kid. All I'm telling you to do is sit in the damn cage. I'm not telling you to lead her by the hand into an attack. You're exaggerating, and we don't have time for this."
Silverwing hesitated. "This is the plan you are going to use for the exercise, no matter what my objections?"
Folding his arms across his chest, Vigilante spoke with icy precision. "Yes."
"Gonna be tough without that cage," the silver-skinned young man observed, his normally blue eyes already glowing in a firelike hue. He turned to the side, just enough to focus on the steel prop. Within seconds, its center had been melted out, twisting the broken lengths of upper and lower metal bars into a candy cane-like jumble that bent sharply to the left.
"You had better have some ideas ready on how to fix that," Vigilante began furiously.
The remainder of his diatribe was cut off by a sharp {crack}; he dropped to the ground in an unconscious heap. Feral turned to gaze calmly at Mime and Moleculon. She had leaves tucked into her hair and also entwined with various sections of fur down the length of her unclothed body. In her right hand she still held the fiberglass "tree branch" with which she had sapped Vigilante; they could see a sharp bend in the spot that had connected against his skull.
Mime looked at Moleculon, then overly casually dusted off his knees and sat down. As Moleculon followed suit, Feral returned her attention to the man crumpled at her feet. She stepped delicately around to his left side, switching her makeshift club to her left hand as she did so.
"I had him blocked," Tom mentioned off-handedly.
"I know." She sank to a crouch, shrugging one shoulder.
"Then why'd you come over?"
Jarissa looked up at him briefly, and the expression in her eyes did not match the disinterested tone of her voice: "I got bored. Why should you have all the fun?"
"Well, there is that," he allowed. "Besides, your timing added some nice, dramatic flair to the whole gesture."
"Can't hurt to make your point in the second before your audience gets knocked unconscious."
As Vigilante began to stir, Feral daintily placed her right hand against his throat. "You're dead," she advised in a throaty near-purr. "Admit you're eliminated from the exercise."

Gironde: I take it that you feel strongly on this matter.

Paul: They cheated. The exercise was a complete failure. Nobody even made an attempt on accomplishing the stated goal. It's bad enough that Mime and Moleculon didn't participate at all; Silverwing actually turned and helped the target! What kind of teamwork is that?

Gironde: Interesting. I might point out that the target successfully evaded your strategy, which (in a sense) is a viable solution to the exercise.

Paul: Her "successful evasion" was to hit me over the head while one of her supposed opponents kept me distracted.

Gironde: And you have never, in your entire career, taken advantage of dissent within the opposition? Or recruited assistance from within the enemy's ranks?

Paul: It's not Feral's attack that I consider cheating. Silverwing threw the game. If he meant to help the target, it was unfair to those of us taking the exercise seriously that he set foot through the door at all. He should abide by the rules of the exercise, or stay out.

Gironde: You do not believe that his stated objection to your plan was, in fact, the genuine cause for his actions?

Paul: No. We all know that he would have not been in any danger of retaliation from the target, during the exercise or later. Every member of the team has been the victim of concerted effort by several teammates. We don't translate that into the field; once we're out of training, we're all on one team again.



Gironde: One last question: Suppose the exercise was re-written to exclude cooperation, leaving each of you competing against everyone else. In your judgment, who would have won, and why?

Paul: If he had bothered to apply himself, Moleculon could have coated all the trees in glue. The target would have eventually left the floor to escape someone else's trap.


Jerry: Oh, certainly Robert has the experience and, shall we say, flexibility to catch our little huntress unawares, without serious risk of blood loss.


Robert: Had he wanted to win, Tom definitely would be my choice. It's a finite room, and she has to be somewhere within its boundaries. From the stories I've been told, he's tracked her before when she was trying to stay hidden. I don't know why he didn't find her last winter, when she disappeared for a while – or maybe he did find her, and chose not to tell the rest of us. Once Tom has found her, all he has to do is pick her up and carry her back to the door.


Jarissa: Silverwing.

Gironde: I repeat: "and why?"

Jarissa: I can only avoid him when he lets me. He's smarter than I am, and faster, and knows me well enough to pick out where I am likely to hide.

Gironde: The other three wouldn't succeed?

Jarissa: {snort} On their own? I have more experience at avoiding traps, and getting rid of hunters, than they have at hunting. Paul thought I would wait for him to come after me. Foolish.


Tom: Nobody would have managed to trap Rissa.

Gironde: Nobody? Are you confident of that?

Tom: Jerry forgets that chemical compounds give off distinctive odors, and so do each of those props. Rob doesn't think Rissa's senses work well enough to catch him out. Paul stood a good chance, if he was calm and thorough about it, but he really doesn't comprehend Rissa well enough to pick out which weaknesses are safe to exploit and which might set off her temper. And Rissa, well, she very understandably doesn't like losing her freedom.

Gironde: Why would you not have succeeded?

Tom: Hunh? What's the fun in that? If I ever absolutely have to go find Rissa and get her someplace else, I'll just do it. But why would I ever try to put her in a cage, or lock her up, or pin her down?

Gironde: Suppose some malicious influence put Jarissa into an uncontrollable rage, and she began to attack anyone who dared come near enough. You know that she's out in that forest. If she isn't contained, she's going to hurt an innocent. We can't help her until we get her under control.

Tom: {long pause} Prof, are you being serious?

Gironde: Absolutely.

Tom: Then I'll go find her, and stay with her until she tires herself out.

Gironde: If she spots you, she'll attack.

Tom: Nah; she may threaten, or tell me to get lost, but Rissa won't hurt me.

Gironde: How can you be so confident?

Tom: Same way she knows I won't lock her up, I guess.

Takes place between Strange Disappearances and Night of the Living Finesse in mid-year 2003. During the "summer semester" the student body is significantly reduced at the Gironde School. Wyldfire takes advantage of this time frame to conduct more intensive teamwork training, since it's easier to maintain coverage for the reduced student body if someone gets injured.

This was an experiment in nonstandard storytelling formats. Specifically, I was trying to go for a totally-text version of the original "Real World" format on MTV. (Obligatory "remember when MTV played music videos" comment here.) I dunno how entertaining it is from a reader's point of view, but it was a fun change from my usual authoring style.
From an in-character point of view, all the events in the {Recording:} sections happen linearly, after which each of the participants gets an on-camera debriefing -- effectively, a cross between an interview and a diary -- displaying their own points of view and conclusions. I particularly enjoyed, at the end, hopping back through a sequence of all participants' "debriefings" to highlight that none of these characters thinks of himself or herself as "the star of this show", to quote Alan Shore. Wyldfire's an ensemble production; without their teammates, these people are downright boring.
The closest the narrator comes to omniscience is when Thomas (a.k.a. Silverwing) notes Jarissa (a.k.a. Feral)'s approach through the tall "fake grass"; and if I remember correctly, I actually wrote it without that bit at first, trying to get through an entire story without dropping a listening device into any character's head at all. I thought, though, that without this last-second prelude, Rissa's appearance seemed forced and jarring, and Tom's closing argument became pointless. Backing up and showing that he'd spotted his best friend's approach, without getting into any detail as to how he suspected she planned to announce herself, I think gives him a stronger victory anyway: he really DID win an argument on his personal morals, against someone who has affection for him but discounts him as a peer, and he did it in the most classic superhero way ... by thwarting what he considered an immoral plan, without harming anyone, and without letting anyone intercede on his behalf.
(The fact that Rissa followed it right up by harming the jeepers out of Thomas's antagonist has everything to do with her morals, and her floundering attempts to respect others' limits, but comparatively little to do with Thomas's morals. Unfortunately. Note that Paul winds up vexed at both of them, rather than considering that "the kid" might have had a good point.)
This is definitely a great format for quickly developing a handful of personalities, with each getting the center spotlight in entertaining measure. In fact, the only character to remain essentially flat and translucent is the "interviewer", Dr. Gironde: his only moment of clear personality is at the beginning, in the writeup of the scenario for the training session ... and that's not made plain to be his POV unless the reader is already familiar with the cast.
Like most of my experiments, though, it's very situation-dependent: such a format almost has to be a recording of an in-house exercise or activity, because how else does the author justify the "interview" clips? If a villain like Arcade set it up, why would the heroes agree to answer at all honestly?
Eventually this experiment led to the Cliché format, where flashbacks were written in first-person present tense while actual "present day" events have a more traditional limited-third past tense. I think that the overall storytelling effect works a little better in Cliché, where the immediacy and timelessness of being plunged into a memory give flashback events a sense of having more energy, a faster pace, than the realtime events that actually took so much less time to occur. On the other hand, the Cliché format is really good for personality display and character development only on the characters involved in the flashback. Yeager and the Apes have personality in spades, and are doing almost all of the interesting bits in the present-day scenes, but I don't feel like I served them particularly well there.
I still wonder if I would ever be capable of writing an interesting short story that entirely stays out of omniscience and first person.


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