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Made of Stronger Stuff

     “C’mon girl show some fire!” Sophie hit the bag with furious intensity as her trainer, George, continued to shout at her. “Harder! Harder!” She lowered her fists, panting, and turned to look at George with an annoyed frown.

     “You yelling at me like that does not encourage me to work harder you know,” she pushed a few strands of sweat soaked hair out of her eyes “It just bugs me.” George sighed.

     “Well what do you want me to say?” Sophie threw her hands up.

 

     “I don’t know, well done maybe?”

 

     “Alright,” he crossed his arms “Well done. Can we get back to training now?” Twenty minutes had already passed, how much more? Sophie groaned in reluctant agreement and raised her arms again. They ached all over. She was soaked in sweat, and there was a good chance that by the time she got home and showered she would have to go straight to bed. If she didn’t want to be tired all of tomorrow that is. Surely hitting a punching bag over and over again couldn’t be doing that much to help her.

     The rest of the gym had emptied some half an hour before. At least they get to have a rest, thought Sophie bitterly jabbing at the bag again. It was old, held together by patches and tape some of which she was responsible for. Several similarly woebegone bags hung around the edges of the room at each corner of the boxing ring in the centre. Exercise equipment was dotted around the free space, some well used others left to gather dust when no one could figure out what they did.

     “Put some energy into it!” cried George practically jumping as he yelled.

     “Aren’t you bored yet?” said Sophie between heavy breaths.

     “Come on, five more minutes and we’re done, okay?” Sure, five more minutes sounded like nothing but time always seemed to drag in an attempt to personally annoy you. Still once she reached the end she could finally stop sit down. Sophie gave another begrudging grunt and shook her hands out to loosen them slightly. Some of the tape was starting to peel away from the fabric of the bag. She pounded it. Maybe if the bag split she could finish early? Then again, George would probably make her continue even if the bag’s insides were on the floor.

     Thud, thud. The sound of her blows filled the gym. She tried to time each punch to the ticking of the lone clock on the wall, counting down the seconds till she could rest.

     “Okay let’s call it quits there.” Sophie let out a strangled cry of relief, letting her upper body slump and her head hang. 

 

     “Alright, alright,” said George “start your warm down.” But she was already in the process of stretching, pulling her arms this way and that, wincing occasionally as she felt the muscles tighten. There was no way she wasn’t going to feel this in the morning. As she sank into a kind of leaning crouch to stretch her legs she saw George wandering off through the door to his office. She frowned as he wiped sweat from his forehead and lifted his own arms into a stretch. Who had been doing all the hard work? She stood up to shout this exact question. Then everything seemed to explode.

White hot pain was coursing through what felt like every nerve in her body. Every inch seared, from the top of her head to even her toenails. Her vision had gone black. Perhaps she had screwed up her eyes, perhaps she had gone blind; it wouldn’t have surprised her, not with this terrible agony. Her ears seemed to ring, was she screaming? She couldn’t tell everything was consumed in unbearable anguish. It needed to end, to ease, to do something. She could not bear this…this…whatever it was.

It was gone so quickly and completely it might never have happened at all. The aches of her training returned, nothing now compared to that. Sophie could feel herself on the hard floor, she must of fallen but she couldn’t remember it. Dimly she registered a panicked voice, someone shaking her shoulder. Cautiously she opened her eyes. Blinking rapidly she was happy to find that she was not blind and George was crouched over her eyes wide with fear a phone in his hand.

     “Sophie! Oh, thank God! What happened?” She opened her mouth to reply but he rambled on, talking very fast. “I was just in the back and I heard you screaming so I came running out here and you were on the floor. I didn’t know what was going on, do you know what that was? Did you have some sort of fit? Like a seizure or something? Is there anything I can do?” Sophie held up a hand for silence.

     “You-” her voice came out as a sort of croak. She cleared her throat and tried again “You can help me stand up.”

 

     “Are you sure that’s wise?”

 

     “Help me stand up, George.” Gingerly put his hands under one of her arms. Planting her feet firmly on the floor she pushed expecting it to be difficult, to be winded by the mere act of standing. Instead she shot to her feet so fast she bounced slightly as she straightened.

     “Well, you don’t seem to need help,” said George. The sudden movement made Sophie sway slightly. Grabbing hold of the punching bag she tried to steady herself. Next second she was back on the floor, still gripping the bag. The chain attaching it to the ceiling had snapped. Once more George crouched over her.

     “I’m sorry, are you alright?” Sophie peered at the remnants of chain still attached to the bag. The links were twisted and stretched, as if they had been pulled apart. She growled in annoyance and tried once more to stand up. George held out a hand for her and she took it gratefully. His shriek made her jump, then wince as her rear hit the floor hard.

     “What? What?” He was shaking his hand, eyes watering.

 

     “Ow, ow, ow, what the hell? Did you have to grip so hard?” Tired of spending so much time on the floor she once again stood up and once again shot to her feet so fast she bounced.

 

     “C’mon I didn’t do it that hard.” He stared at her incredulously.

 

     “Yes, you did,” he examined his hand closely “I think you broke my fingers.” She scoffed, he was a grown man and a kickboxing trainer to boot, what was he being so dramatic for? After a few more moments of George massaging his hand he seemed to have come to a decision.

 

     “Right, I think we should go to the hospital.” Sophie pulled a face as she stretched, testing all her joints and muscles. Nothing hurt, even the ache of the training had gone.

 

     “I don’t think I need to.” He looked at her like she was mad.

 

     “What because you feel okay now? What if it happens again? They could be seizures for all we know.”

 

     “They’re not seizur-”

 

     “How do you know?” he shouted “You’re not a doctor!”

 

     “Well neither are you?!” retorted Sophie. However, she couldn’t help but see the logic in what he was saying. She deliberated for a moment.

 

     “Can I shower first?”

***

     Someone was knocking at her front door. Sophie jerked awake at the sound, peering out from under her comfortably warm duvet to look at the clock on her bedside table. It was half past seven in the morning. The knocking continued as she turned her head and screamed into her pillow. Who was bothering her at this time? She had only gotten back from the hospital a few hours ago.

     She’d arrived last night with George who was ready to tell anyone who would listen exactly what happened on her behalf. Apparently, she had been deemed a low priority and had sat in the waiting room for hours, dozing off occasionally. When they’d eventually gotten around to her, sometime in the early morning hours, they performed numerous tests including an MRI scan. Finally, she was going to get some answers. They could not find a single thing wrong with her. The baffled doctors could only tell her to come back if it happened again.

     Now someone was disturbing her long sought-after sleep. Sophie buried herself in her blankets hoping one of her housemates would deal with this annoyingly early visitor. It seemed they didn’t want to deal with it either. Groaning and grumbling she dragged herself upright, pulled on a jumper and slippers and proceeded down the stairs and yanked the door open.

     “What?” she growled. There was a woman standing there. A soldier in olive green uniform. Sophie noticed that she seemed to be absurdly clean. Everything from the buttons on her jacket to her shoes was polished to a high shine. Not a single wrinkle in the fabric of her uniform, as if the woman herself had been ironed.

     “I’m sorry to disturb you at this hour.” The soldier’s voice was clear and sharp, even her tone seemed clean. “Is this the residence of one Sophie Johansson?” Sophie stood there mouth slightly agape, mind blank.

     “Oh, um, yes. Why?”

     “There are important matters that must be addressed.” She looked Sophie up and down.  Sophie shifted slightly in her pyjamas and slippers. “Are you perhaps Miss Johansson?” There was no point in lying, and it wasn’t as if she had done anything wrong. Nothing to cause a soldier to turn up on her doorstep. She gave a tiny nod. The soldier nodded in return.

“I am aware that you have come into certain…abilities, correct?” Sophie frowned.

 

     “Well no, not really.”

 

     “Are you sure?” The woman was looking at her oddly, as if she was interrogating a witness she knew was lying. Sophie thought back. There had been that incident with the chain of the punching bag snapping, but chains snapped sometimes, she reasoned. Then George complaining she’d gripped his hand too hard. Then when they’d arrived at the hospital, she pushed the door and it had nearly fallen off its hinges. The soldier seemed to take her silence as confirmation. She nodded again.

“Miss Johansson I am here to talk with you about the Donatus Programme.” The woman gave a tiny smile as she removed her cap from her head. “May I come in?”

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