Watcher Licensing Exam.
Haley Prince, Exam #11.
Faster than a cheetah.
The chant ran through Haley’s head as she sprinted down the track, as it had on so many fitness tests before.
Stronger than a rhino.
She came up to the first obstacle in the course: the monkey bars. Haley swung through them easily, pulling well ahead of the other contestants. That’s how she thought of them in her head, at least – they were all competing for the limited spots in the Watcher academy.
Agile as a cat.
Haley ran through the tire trap, focusing on keeping her balance as she stepped carefully in every slightly-too-large tire. This is where she usually lost time; sure enough, two other contestants came up from behind her. She wasn’t going to let them pass, though – she wasn’t going to let the officers in charge of the selection see her fall behind.
Steady as a boulder.
Haley surged forward through the gauntlet of punching bags. This obstacle was designed to slow the contestants down, but Haley barreled through past the others with no regard to the bruises that she was surely getting from the swinging bags.
She was the first to reach the balance beam, running easily across in just a few steps without losing her footing. Haley could almost hear the selection officers’ collective jaws dropping, as she knew they must be. She had done so many obstacle courses before this one that she could probably run it in her sleep. As she sprinted towards the last obstacle, she saw one of the other contestants coming up on her left. She pushed herself even harder, getting a burst of speed that let her come up to the rope swing first.
She had just grabbed the rope to swing across when the other contestant pushed her out of the way. Haley fought to keep hold of the rope, tightening her grip, but the damage was done: instead of jumping across, she just fell off the platform without much momentum.
Only one shot at this, she thought, gritting her teeth and bracing for the impact. Her weight falling off of the platform gave her only one chance to land on the far side; if she missed, she would have to run back around to re-do the obstacle. But she wasn’t going to miss.
She hit the platform with a thud, scraping one of her calves on the edge of the wood as she landed. Letting go of the rope, Haley winced as she stood up and kept running. She remembered to swing the rope back to the other side behind her, but she gave a quick glare to the one who pushed her before she did.
She sprinted over the finish line first, allowing herself a quick grin as one of the selection officers came up to her. “Great job, Prince,” he said, grinning at her. He called her by her last name, like he would any real cadet. “You beat the previous record by nearly a full second.”
“Lots of practice,” Haley said breathlessly. A sharp pain as she took a step forward reminded her of her injury. Looking down at her cut, the officer nodded towards the first-aid station set up on the side of the course.
“Go get yourself cleaned up,” he told her, all business, “then report to the start line for your score.” He grinned again, giving her a conspirator’s wink as he added, “I think you’ll be fine.”
Haley gave a weak smile in return, and then winced as he turned to the next contestant. She slowly jogged over to where she had left her bag, and brought it to the medic’s tent. “Could I just get an alcohol wipe for this?” she asked, gesturing to her shin.
The medic took one look at the gash, and pulled out the requested wipes and a roll of gauze. “Here,” he offered, “I’ll get that fixed up.”
“I can do it,” Haley said, pulling a small vial out of her bag. The medic brushed her off, though.
“I’m sure you can,” he said in a patronizing tone, “but this is my job. I’ll just wrap this up for you.”
Haley was torn for a second, before she sighed and slipped the vial back into her pack. I’ll just apply that in the car, she thought, hoping that the final scores wouldn’t take too long.
She thanked the medic when he had finished – he did do a good job in cleaning and binding the wound – and then jogged over to the start line where four other contestants waited. She stood at attention with them as the remainder of the twenty try-outs finished.
The full version of her mantra repeated over and over in her head as she waited. Her dad had written that poem for her when she was a little kid chasing after her brothers:
Faster than a cheetah I run through the night,
Patient as a rainfall I wait for the light.
Stronger than a rhino, I help those in need,
Steady as a boulder I give word and deed.
Anger rolls through me, agile as a cat,
Fear flies away to the night like a bat.
Peace keeps me strong in times of doubt,
Strength keeps me steady in times without.
Her dad wasn’t exactly a poet, but the meditative nature of the words helped Haley keep her emotions in check. It helped her in the interviews to keep her cool, especially when they kept telling her the exact same thing, over and over again, every single time she took the Watcher licensing exam.
Patient as a rainfall, Haley thought, before the apprehension swallowed her up again. She shifted her feet, unlocking her knees before her blood flow stopped. She didn’t dare look down at the cut. The less attention I draw to it, the better, she decided, even though she knew it was a vain hope.
Finally, the last contestant was through the obstacle course and the officers were joining the cadet-hopefuls. Hurry up already, Haley let the impatient thought cross her mind before repeating the mantra again.
It took another twenty minutes before the officers were done with the group, as they listed everything they had seen – both good and bad – before announcing each candidate’s final score. Haley would have appreciated the feedback a few try-outs ago, but now she just wanted to get back to her car as fast as possible before anyone noticed her leg.
Too late. The officer that had congratulated her before called her out as the fastest candidate, and his smile faltered as he saw the bandage on her leg. Don’t look down, Haley thought, fighting the urge despite knowing what he had seen. The officers finished up pretty quickly after that, but the damage was done.
“Prince!” the medical officer called as she tried to leave. “Wait a minute.” He was standing with the other evaluation officers at this point. Haley’s shoulders slumped slightly as she gave a sigh. Turning around, she straightened back up and jogged back over to them.
“Yes sir?” she asked, keeping her demeanor respectful. She had no idea who these officers might know, and showing any disrespect here could ruin her chances for the next exam. She clasped her clammy hands together behind her back as she came to parade rest while she waited for the judgment.
Most of the evaluating officers wore Watcher PT uniforms, except for one man who stood out like a sore thumb in a three-piece suit. It was all Haley could do not to stare at him; in late May, the weather had to be too hot for him to be standing there so easily. His face wasn’t even flushed, though; he just stood there like the others, propping a large black umbrella up next to his perfectly shiny black shoes.
The medic saved her from staring by asking a question. “What’s the matter with your leg?” – the very question Haley had been dreading.
Maybe staring at the suit wouldn’t be so bad.
“What do you mean, sir?” she asked politely, still refusing to look down on her own.
“The cut she got earlier wasn’t that deep,” the medic insisted to the others, “not something that she should need stitches for.”
They told her to sit back down by the medical station, and Haley had to comply. Propping her leg up on another chair, she got to look at what she knew would happen: her stupid blood had soaked through the gauze bandage in less than an hour.
Haley sighed and reached for her bag, taking the vial out again. The medic stripped the bandage off, showing the cut to all of the other officers. The medic had been right, it wasn’t that deep. The problem was in Haley’s blood.
She had what the doctors said was an “inherent vitamin K deficiency”. That meant, in layman’s terms, that her blood wouldn’t clot properly. When she got bruised or cut, it lasted far longer and bled more freely than it would for any other person. Haley had been living with this her entire life; she had inherited the condition from her mother’s side, and it had never seemed like a big deal until she first took the exam for her Watcher license. All she had to do on her part was to keep her diet high in vitamin K – in other words, eat an inordinate amount of kale and broccoli and take vitamin pills twice a day – as well as keep a vial of medical sealant in her bag, and she could live like a normal human. At least, that’s what every doctor she had ever seen tried to say about it.
The problem was that she didn’t want to live “like a normal human.” Ever since she was a little girl, she wanted to be a Watcher – a government-sanctioned vigilante that caught criminal Third Gens and satyrs that the human police couldn’t handle. It was rare enough for someone who wasn’t a Third Gen to get their license in the first place, but Haley had very nearly done it. She trained every day, working to become just as fast, strong, and durable as any Third Gen or satyr. She raced her brothers and her satyr and Third-Gen friends for months up until the physical test so that she could keep up. She had never wanted anything more in her entire life.
The day of that first exam came, and she had passed with flying colors. She impressed the trainers, her fellow candidates, and even some real Watchers who had come to see the new cadets, that a human girl could keep up with (and in most cases even beat) a roomful of Third Gens and satyrs. She had everything she had ever wanted within reach; it was the best moment of her life.
Then her traitorous blood showed up in her physical, and she was kicked to the curb.
Her doctor refused to sign off on the medical waiver for her license. She went to three other doctors, who all said the same thing. Her dream was dashed by something entirely out of her control. If she ever had a moment where she felt like there was no point in living, then that was it.
Haley wasn’t going to give up, though. She tried joining four different branches of the military, and then moved on to police forces, and every three months she took the Watcher exam again, as soon as the next one came around. This was Haley’s eleventh try at the Watcher exam, and now her only hope was to impress the selection officers so much with her scores that they ignored her medical forms and signed off on the license anyways. She had to be the best, and it became an obsession – to the point where she had opened herself up to yet another disappointment by allowing a stupid board to cut her stupid leg.
The officers waited until the medic cleaned the cut, and didn’t say anything until Haley sealed it with the artificial sealant. Then the lead officer, the one that had told her how impressed they had been, pointed out: “We can’t sign off on you with a condition like that.”
Haley snapped out of her reverie and looked at him. He had some papers open on his clipboard, and from the small corner she could see, Haley recognized her medical file. He had it open to the page they all did, the one that damned her chances of joining. “Please understand,” he continued; her feelings must have been apparent on her face. “That obstacle course is nothing compared to what the Watchers face every day. Forget about the real legwork – if you’re going to bleed out from a paper cut, what would happen if you went up against an actual criminal?”
Haley couldn’t speak; her throat was closing up, and it was all that she could do not to cry in front of these seasoned Watchers. She knew all of this, of course. They thought that they were saving her life by denying her the one thing that would make it worth living. Every other let-down had been exactly the same.
The officers were kind, and that made it worse. One sympathized, citing an old injury that knocked him back from patrol work to licensing. Another recommended where else she might try, though he added that it might be best if she looked for another field. Haley just stared at the cut, barely listening to the platitudes of the people who already had what she wanted. She nearly missed it when the man in the suit asked her a question.
“I’m sorry, come again?” she asked, dropping the “sirs” now that the officers had confirmed her worst fears.
The man in the suit gave her a small smile. “I said, ‘why do you want to do this so badly?’”
Haley looked up at him, her eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted,” she answered, not knowing what else to say.
“But why?” he asked again. “I see in your file that you’ve taken this exam eleven times now. You’ve also tried out for four police forces, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and even the Coast Guard – every one of them told you the exact same thing.” He closed her file with a snap, staring at her intently. “Why haven’t you given up? Why are you still trying out?”
“Because I want to help people,” she said without thinking. Realizing that it sounded cliché, she explained, “I’ve always wanted the kind of adventure and excitement that came with being a Watcher. I want to be the best I can possibly be, and, to me, that means keeping up with Third Gens and satyrs, and helping to clean up the city. This world is full of titans, and…” she trailed off, thinking, before finishing: “I might be just a human, but I want to prove that anyone can be a titan if they try hard enough.”
Silence followed her speech. The selection officers all looked uncomfortable, as if she was a child saying “I’m gonna be an astronaut when I grow up!” They don’t think I can do it, Haley thought wryly. She wanted to put her hands over her face in embarrassment, maybe run home and hide under the covers with a pint of ice cream. She could feel the heat rising in her face as her cheeks flushed, but she kept her eyes trained on the man in the suit, whose lips were pursed in a judging manner. They think I’m weak, she thought, setting her chin in determination. Weak, and childish, and naïve, and –
The man in the suit started to laugh. It took Haley a second to realize it – he had looked so stern a moment before – but there it was: he was laughing so hard that he had to lean on his umbrella to keep from doubling over. “Oh, you’ll do nicely,” he finally said once he caught his breath. “‘The world is full of titans,’ I’ve never heard it phrased quite that way before.” He pulled himself together, still chuckling at whatever it was he had found so funny. “These men may not think you’re capable, but I might have just the job for you.”
He picked up his umbrella and put it over his shoulder. “I’ll find you later in the week,” he promised. “There are just a few more things I need to take care of, first.” He turned to the other officers present, who all looked at him like he was growing a second head. “… I think you’re dismissed, unless these gentlemen have anything else to add?”
He let them all sit in stunned silence for a second, before picking up his umbrella and walking towards the entrance to the yard. Haley looked between him and the card a few times before calling after him, “Who are you?”
The man turned around and gave her a jaunty smile. “My name is Agent,” he said, flourishing the closed umbrella in a mock wave, “and I will see you tomorrow.”
As she watched Agent walk away, Haley felt a dreadful, wonderful feeling that she had thought was gone forever:
She looked back at the card he had left and smiled. It was about time for a new job.
* * * * * * * *