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“Listen, I wanted that contract myself,” confides Hidebound, “but no hard feelings. You ready to train?”

“Guess I’d better be,” says Zach.

What follows is intense: six hand-to-hand disciplines, melee, revolvers, semiautos, full assault. Stealth courses. Endurance. Zach learns to use ten grades of plastique, and how to roll with the shockwave; he learns urban camo and marksmanship. He learns how to kill with his pinky.

“I think we’re done,” he says, finally.

Hidebound smiles. “I think you’re right.”

Zach checks his watch. “And I can’t believe it only took two hours!”

“You’re a natural,” says Hidebound, smiling wider.