At the sound of the clap, he rushes me. And instantly all the techniques, all the lessons we learnt, disappear from my head. I feebly raise my wooden sabre, but he whacks my hand and it goes flying.

"Stop, stop, stop." The drill master walks over, and the other guy stops pummeling me. "What the hell is wrong with you, soldier?" I stare up at the ceiling. "You didn't even try to fight back."

That about sums everything up, doesn't it. "I don't know what got into me, sir." He's still waiting. "I'll try harder next time. Sir." Without a word, he stalks over to the next match.

This is stupid, anyway.

"What was that?" He turns back around. Oh shit. Did I say that out loud?

"Nothing, sir."

"No, let's hear it." He stands over me, arms crossed. Always known for his sharp hearing. Everything else has gone quiet.

"Well, sir." There's a crack in the plaster. "It occurs to me that all this isn't very useful." It looks kind of like a dragon. "Because, you know. We'll be fighting with guns out there. And not sticks." Somebody laughs, but quickly stifles it.

The drill master's face remains stone. Hardass, huh. "Get up." His voice is like a gunshot. "Pick it up." Come on everybody, go on with your lives. But everybody remains dead still. Damn. I stand there awkwardly with the sabre.

"Ready?" I was born ready. I tense, and for a moment that time seems frozen. But then without warning, he comes at me. So fast. I can't even see his blade – until something slams into my side, smashes the breath out of me. Well, I don't see the point of that. I stare up at the ceiling. If you were going to knock me down again. "Parry number two." Damn, it hurts though. Is that thing really made of wood? Because it feels like a couple ribs might be broken or something. "Tell me, soldier." He leans into my vision. "If you can't even defend yourself against a man with a 'stick' – then what use is a gun?"

This time I have the sense not to answer.