Rising in Rank

Chapter 1

What's up everyone? Red vs Blue is something I've been watching for somewhere around half a year now. On my second time through the series but hey, that's not important right now and totally normal, right?

I've had an OC for this since a while ago, when I first finished the Freelancer arc. I dunno why it took so long for the inevitable fic to happen.

Insert funny disclaimer here cause I don't want to get sued.

"Single digits! Congrats, Penny!"

"Look at you, moving up the leaderboard."

"Don't ditch us for the elites, hun."

"Hey, chill out. The board doesn't even matter unless you're in top six. Why else would only those ranks get publicly shown? Me going from ten to nine is no different than when Alabama went from thirty-six to thirty-five." A helmet dropped onto the table, followed by a plate of food. The owner of both took a seat in front of them, a wide smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. Deft fingers flicked black hair out of her face, light green eyes sparkling with pride despite the words she'd just spoken. "Oh, and don't worry, Jersey. I wouldn't give you guys up for the world. Most of the top six seem pretty scary..."

A hand clapped down on her shoulder, glove against silver highlighted armor that was such a deep purple it would have looked black under certain lightings. "Yeah but I'm still twenty-nine spots away from making it to top six. You're only three! It's definitely a bigger deal for you than me." This voice was male, face hidden beneath a helmet for now. His armor was a startlingly bright red, solidly colored.

"Alabama's right." Another male, a freckle faced young man with shaggy blond hair, poked the purple-armored woman in the side with his elbow. "And nine's definitely a better spot to be in than forty-six. Pretty sure the only position I'll ever be able to grab on a team now is as cannon fodder." A shadow passed across sea blue eyes, their hue almost perfectly matching his armor.

"Sweetie, we'd never let that happen." This speaker was another woman. Dark-skinned, dark-haired, dark-eyed. As if to offset that, her armor was a garish pink trimmed with dark yellow. She leaned across the table, patting the blond's cheek.

"Yeah, come on, Michigan. Listen to Jersey, and don't get so down." Alabama ruffled Michigan's hair. "You're by far the youngest in the program too, remember. Really still a kid. It's awesome you even made it this far."

"Stop that," Michigan whined, pushing both hands away. "I'm old enough to drink. I'm not a kid. ...but thanks. And Penny! I'm sorry! We're supposed to be celebrating you making it to rank nine!"

"Barely old enough to drink, Michigan," Penny teased with a light chuckle. "And really. We don't have to celebrate it. You know the only thing keeping me afloat up there is my hand-to-hand, my stealth, and my knife skills. I'm just a little above average with everything else."

Silence fell upon for the four for a few minutes as each dug into his or her dinner. Then... "You really won't leave us behind to hang out with the elites now that you're single digits on the leaderboard?"

"Michigan, chill out. Like I said, most of those guys seem scary. Not to mention they keep mostly to themselves. Looks like they're pretty elitist in more ways than just ranking," Penny sighed. She slung an arm around Michigan's shoulders. "And we've been friends since we all started in this program. One little ranking change won't stop that."

"That top squad is made of the single digits, Penny," Alabama pointed out. "We don't know if the roster is going to change now that you've been bumped up to nine and Florida got dropped down to ten."

"You have to consider the fact that they'll swap him out for you, hun." Jersey frowned. "You'll be running on their timetable in that case. Out all the time on their missions."

"You're a bunch of worrywarts. Even if that happens, I'll still have down time to hang with you guys. They can't keep me away from you all the time."

"Agent Pennsylvania."

"Fuckers are about to try to prove me wrong, aren't they?" Penny muttered, dropping her arm and looking over her shoulder at the soldier who'd approached the table. "Yeah?"

"Director wants to see you."


"Uh... Well he said 'now' but I got a little turned around on my way here cause this ship is huge so probably more like five minutes ago?"

Penny groaned, getting up and grabbing her helmet, lowering it over her head. She patted Michigan's shoulder. "Look, forget about your ranking. At least you'll never be as incompetent as that."

"H-Hey," the soldier who'd come to fetch her protested.

"Yeah, sorry buddy. But it's not really that hard to find your way around. Even if the ship is big. Hey, I'll see you guys later." She waved to her friends, the three of them returning with a chorus of goodbyes, and turned to nearly run out of the mess hall. It didn't do to keep the Director waiting.

Her first clue that this wasn't a normal meeting? She was walking into one of the training rooms. Her second clue? Well her second clue was big, scary, and clad in white armor.

"Agent Pennsylvania."

"Uh...yes sir?" She tore her gaze away from white-armored mountain and let it settle on the Director, snapping herself stiffly to attention.

"I expect you to be on time in the future. You have reached quite a high rank on the leaderboard."

"Yes sir."

"Good. Because of your new ranking, you are being considered for squad reassignment. Over the course of the next few weeks, you will be tested in various scenarios against the other top-ranking Freelancers. You will move up the list in ascending order with the tests getting progressively more difficult. However, since Agents Florida and CT are currently unavailable, you will begin today against the current number seven, Agent Maine." The Director nodded to the armored man at his side. "These tests will have no impact on the leaderboard."

"I'm fucked," Penny muttered under her breath.

"What was that?"

"Nothing, sir! What kind of test is this?"

"We're beginning with one of your clear strengths. Do not worry. You will engage in one-on-one combat against Agent Maine. The only weapons you are allowed are knives. F.I.L.S.S. prepare the floor."

"Preparing. All non-combatants, please clear the floor. Maine and Pennsylvania, please take up your positions."

Penny forced herself to take in a deep breath and let it out slowly as she turned to walk to the table that had lifted up out of the floor at the end of the training field that was nearest to her. She lifted her head to glance at the windows near the ceiling, knowing the Director would be watching from the viewing area. Then she almost froze up. It wasn't just the Director up there. Two sets of purple armor, gray, dusty gold, white, and turquoise. "I'm fucked," she mumbled again, picking up the single knife that awaited her on the table. Like all the training knives, its edge was blunted for safety and treated with a dye that would leave marks where she struck her opponent.

"Round one beginning in five. Four. Three. Two. One. Begin."

Penny began to carefully circle around the edge of the area, keeping her gaze on Maine. He barely hesitated before charging straight at her, his knife stabbing down in an overhead strike at her head. She rolled to his left, sticking out a foot to try to hook his ankle only for him to lift his own foot and place it back down on top of hers. And for the third time, as she tried in vain to pull her foot out from beneath his weight, she uttered those two words. "I'm fucked."

His knife flashed down again and she caught the blade against her own, flicking it aside. She was already in a poor position. Maine was bigger and definitely physically stronger than her. Her agility should have been what she could use to her advantage but he'd also been faster than she expected and now she was trapped. She lifted her other foot, kicking at his leg, but he just leaned more of his weight down onto her pinned foot and it was like kicking a metal pole.

Thinking to switch tactics, she sat up, driving her knife towards his foot. That plan went out the window when she had to jerk her torso back to avoid a swipe aimed for her throat. He dropped down suddenly, kneeling sideways on her legs and twisting to stab towards her chest. She brought her knife up to deflect the stab and in a flash his other hand had latched onto her wrist, twisting painfully until her grip on her knife loosened and the weapon slipped out of her fingers, it's blade leaving a bright blue mark against her armor as it fell. Maine finished by casually poking his knife straight at her chest, a red splotch appearing on her armor right above her heart.

"Round one over. Point awarded to Maine. The current score is Pennsylvania, zero, Maine, one. Reset for round two."

"That was embarrassing," Penny sighed quietly.

Maine scooped her knife up and pressed the hilt back into her palm, then stood and held a hand down for her. "Yeah," he grunted.

"Didn't need agreement on that but thanks anyway." She grasped his hand and he tugged her to her feet. Damn, he was strong. The two went back to their separate ends of the floor. A table rose again from the floor in front of Penny, this time holding a small spray bottle and a towel. She dropped the knife on the table and picked up the bottle, spritzing the two marks on her armor then wiping them clean with the towel. That done, she picked up the knife again.

"Better luck this round, Pennsylvania. Round two in five. Four. Three. Two. One. Begin."

"Gee, thanks F.I.L.S.S.," Penny grumbled, watching Maine carefully. As with the last round, he took the direct approach of rushing straight at her. She twitched towards the left again and then dodged to the right, leaving a line of blue along the metal that protected his hip. By the time Maine realized she had faked him out, she was behind him and her knife was on a straight course for the side of his neck.

It never reached its target. Maine kicked back, sending her flying. She hit the ground on her back and tumbled. Flipping herself around, she dug her feet in against the floor, along with her free hand, and slid to a stop. Relentless, Maine was already rushing at her. She adjusted the position of her crouch, eyes narrowing as she watched. Then she shoved off, leaping into the air to fly over his head. His hand closed around her ankle, dragging her down. She reacted fast, her knife going out to drag the blunted edge across his throat at the same time that her other hand grabbed his incoming knife, not caring about the red streak that would leave on her palm. A throaty growl left Maine as he understood what had happened.

"Round two over. Point awarded to Pennsylvania. The current score is Pennsylvania, one, Maine, one. Reset for round three. Armor lock will now be in effect."

Penny picked her up from the floor, heading back to her end to clean the new mark off her armor. Maine did the same on his end. This was going to be the toughest round, she was certain. She wouldn't underestimate his speed again, but now Maine wouldn't be underestimating her.

"Round three in five. Four. Three. Two. One. Begin."

Time to switch it up. Penny took off, running straight at Maine. There was a very brief moment of pause caused by surprise at her sudden head-on tackling of the fight. Then he shook it off and ran to meet her. She jumped again, trying to repeat her previous win, only to catch a fist in her gut and be thrown even higher into the air. She twisted around, keeping her sights on Maine's knife as she fell back towards it. He slashed it up to meet her and she dropped her forearm down to meet it. The dulled blade slid along her vambrace before Maine twisted the knife around and a red streak trailed along her wrist. She felt her armor lock up around the wrist, registering the strike as a possibly crippling one. That was fine with her. She had managed to thrust her knife up against his exposed armpit when he'd struck at her.

She landed hard on the ground, facedown, and immediately rolled, predicting his attempt to pin her beneath his foot again. Hearing his foot thump to the floor beside her, she lifted her head and kicked herself into a roll that took her behind him, her knife leaving a blue trail across the back of his knee. The force behind her blow was enough for his armor to register it as potentially crippling in a real battle and Maine stumbled it locked up around his knee. She took the chance to reverse her hold on her knife, smashing the hilt into the back of his knee. Already unbalanced, Maine went down.

Penny was on him instantly, straddling his waist and stabbing her knife for his neck. Then she yelped in shock, finding herself rolling across the floor again. Maine had turned himself over to throw her off of him. Both Freelancers were fast to get back on their feet, the white one struggling a little with one of his knees immobilized. Penny allowed herself a smile. Now her small size could be turned to the advantage with her speed and agility. He wouldn't be able to keep up with her anymore.

Maine let out a low growl, leg dragging as he circled her much more cautiously than before. She darted towards him, their blades clashing together. He tried to lock them hilt to hilt, where he'd be able to use his heavier weight to his advantage, but she was quick to disengage and retreat several feet. For the next couple minutes, the match continued much in that manner. One of them would close the distance, trying to land a hit. Maine would try to keep things close. Penny would back away. Red lines crisscrossed her armor, just as blue was splattered all over Maine. Both of them had lost more joints to the armor lock. Penny's shoulder, thankfully on the same side as the wrist she'd already lost, couldn't move anymore. Meanwhile, Maine's elbow was immobilized in a bent position.

They clashed again. Penny's jab was caught by Maine's immobilized arm as he twisted his torso. She dropped her blade quickly to deflect a strike aimed for her stomach, then kicked at his knee. He growled and jerked back but she followed and kicked again. This time he managed to lurch to the side...right into her knife as she reached it across her body. The mark left by the dye was small, but the force registered on the armor's lockdown system and that was it.

"Round three over. Point awarded to Pennsylvania. The final score is Pennsylvania, two, Maine, one," F.I.L.S.S. announced.

Penny gratefully flexed her stiff arm as the armor lock was released. Maine picked himself up from off the floor, looming over her as they faced each other. She had no idea what he was thinking behind that helmet. Silence lasted for several seconds before he growled again. "I'll get you next time. Good fight."

She knew that she didn't ever want there to be a next time. But she gave a thumbs up. "I think a certain degree of luck came into play with my win. Without the armor lock, that was your match."

They separated to drop off their knives and clean off their armor. Before she left the training room, Penny glanced again at the large windows that overlooked the area, wishing she could figure out what her audience had thought of that.

"So what was that thing earlier about?" Alabama handed the cue stick over to Jersey, his big brown eyes focused on Penny the whole time.

The four were winding down in the late evening, dressed now in casual clothing, and gathered together for a game of pool. Or at least, three of them were gathered around the table. Michigan has never much been a fan of the game, so he was in a nearby corner with a pinball machine. Hearing Alabama's question though, the blond looked over his shoulder. "Getting called in by the Director?"

"Yep. That," the other man confirmed, reaching back now that his hands were free to tighten the low ponytail his brown hair was held back in.

"You guys were right. They're considering moving me up with the elites because of my ranking. But the Director is testing me first. Against all the other top ten." Penny leaned against the edge of the pool table. "Made me fight Maine today. Knife match."

"That guy's terrifying! You seriously went toe to toe with him, with only a knife?" Michigan's eyes grew wide. "He's so big!"

"I won. Only because the armor lock let me slowly immobilize him though. And I didn't do it without getting hit myself. I think I'm going to have several bruises in the morning." She took the cue stick from Jersey, studying the balls on the table.

"You won? You beat Maine in a knife fight? Holy hell, Penny!"

"Don't sound so surprised, Al. Penny's one of the best around with a knife, aren't you hun?"

The woman in question rubbed the back of her neck, grinning. "Well I try to keep myself humble about it, buuuuuut..."

" 'Buuuuuut' nothing, hun," Jersey shot back, mimicking her drawn out word. "Just admit it. You got natural talent or something. Be proud of that!"

"Well okay. I guess I am one of the best around when it comes to using a knife." She leaned over the table, shoving the cue stick forward and watching the balls roll. Nothing? Nothing. Hadn't hit hard enough. With a sigh, she handed the stick over to Alabama. "Anyway. I'm probably going soon. I'm pretty tired and it's getting late."

"We should all go soon," Alabama agreed.

"You guys can. I have a pinball record to beat," Michigan turned back to the machine.

"No way. If we don't drag you to bed with us, you'll never walk away from that game. In fact, before you can start a new one now..." Penny ignored the blond's whine as she caught the back of his shirt and dragged him over to the pool table. "Oh and...I'm thinking of purposely failing the rest of these tests."

There was silence, all three of her friends turning to stare at her.

"Are you crazy?" Alabama demanded.

"No! It's just that...well, if I get stuck in with the elites, I won't get to work with you guys anymore."

"That's a stupid reason not to go for this." Jersey folded her arms across her chest, dark eyes narrowing. "You've got the chance to move up. Go for it. Just remember what you said earlier. You'll still have free time to spend with us."

"You sure?"

"Uh, yeah." Michigan strutted right up to her and poked her in the chest. "What the hell kind of friends would we be if we let you hold yourself back for our sakes? We'd have to be the worst friends in the history of bad friends! You're gonna go do these tests, and you're gonna give it your all for each and every one!"

Penny batted his hand down and then booped his nose with a smirk, watching him jerk back and cover his nose. "Yeah, yeah. Alright. I'll do my best."

"That should start now." Jersey, wearing what all three knew to be her stubborn expression, started collecting the balls strewn about the table. "You're going to get plenty of sleep so you can be well rested for these tests, hun. So scram."

"I can't leave yet, Jersey. Come on." Penny waited, hands on her hips, until Jersey sighed, rolled her eyes, and abandoned the pool balls to sling her arms around Penny's shoulders. Penny's arms snaked around Jersey's waist, pulling the other woman closer. The two shared a quick kiss before separating. "Now that I've gotten my goodnight kiss, I can leave to grab some sleep."

"Hey, where's my goodnight kiss?" Michigan teased.

"Get a girlfriend for yourself if you want that," Penny tossed over her shoulder as she left the room. It was a short wander through the halls to reach her quarters. As usual, she picked her way around the mess that was her floor, lying to herself once again when she decided she'd clean tomorrow. She threw herself onto her bed, burrowing under her sheets. One hand groped for the worn plushie that she'd been sleeping with since she was a little girl. It was the mascot of some really old tv show and she honestly didn't even know its name but the yellow mouse-thing was cute and held a certain degree of nostalgia for her childhood days, so she kept it around. Even if she thought it was pretty embarrassing to be a grown woman sleeping with a stuffed animal.

That embarrassment didn't bother her tonight though. She just hugged the plushie close as she drifted off. Tomorrow was probably going to be hell and she'd rather stay positive for as long as she could.

Uhhh yeah. That's it. That's... I don't have anything to say for the first chapter ending. Hope y'all managed to get interested in this. Maybe leave a review? Those make up about ninety percent of the author diet. If you're curious, the rest is fifteen percent ideas and ten percent real food.

Hey. I said author diet. Not mathematician diet.