It was her fourth attempt at the maze, and it felt just as impossible this time as previous times. If she hadn’t known it was meant to be so difficult, she’d have felt like a complete failure.
“Kinsey White?” the overhead speaker called as she was putting on her boots.
She strode out of the locker room and into the greenhouse atrium at the beginning of the maze. There was someone else waiting there as usual. The last three times her partner had been female, though. The man seemed equally as surprised. A maze director walked out in his military uniform shaking his head.
“I’m sorry. They had you listed as a male for some reason, Kinsey. If you’d like, we can postpone for another day,” he said, flipping through paperwork.
“No, it’s fine with me,” Kinsey said. “Will our team be held to the course expectation for males, though?”
It didn’t seem fair to drag a teammate down just because the modified course was catered to specific genders. She’d heard the upper-body strength portions of the male course were brutal, and she just didn’t have that. Likewise, though, she’d had some tight squeezes that most of the males she knew wouldn’t fit through.
“We have a moderate level which will incorporate aspects from both specific courses—without exploiting gender weaknesses,” he said. “It’s harder on a whole, but…”
“Who uses the moderate level?” the other guy asked, echoing Kinsey’s thoughts.
“While you’re selected alphabetically during trial runs, after you’ve completed the maze once, you can pick your partner on additional runs. We have a lot of male and female teams when they can choose their partner,” the maze director explained.
“I’m game to go today,” the other competitor said. “This will be my third time, and we didn’t even get close last time.” He grinned at Kinsey. “That probably doesn’t boost your confidence.”
Kinsey smiled and said, “It’s my fourth attempt, so… ditto.”
“So, you’re agreed?” the maze director asked.
They both nodded. He marked on the sheet and exited through a side door.
“Kinsey White,” she said, sticking out a hand. “Lieutenant, First Class.”
“Heath Whittaker. Gunner, Space—Outer Ring, First Class,” he said, shaking her hand. “What division—Ground or Space?”
“I’m with the Ground division, but I’m medical bay. It’s a forward position, though, so I’m not with the facilities,” she explained. She didn’t want him to think she was going to hold him back from lack of field experience.
He nodded, understanding. “I’m trying to get with the Special Forces with the Ground division, actually. I’ve got the sniper hours to my record, but this maze keeps kicking my ass.”
“You have to have a successful run?” she asked. Wow. There were few positions that required a successful maze run.
“Two,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“Oh… I was just going for the pay increase,” she admitted.
“That is a consideration. I’m also tired of these long flight missions. We were gone six months this last time and were quarantined for three of those months due to some alien epidemic that made half the crew lose their hair.”
“Not you, though,” Kinsey said, gesturing at his thick brown hair. His eyes matched his hair… and the jumpsuit they both wore.
“No,” he agreed, running a hand through his hair. “I can’t believe they thought you were male.” He tugged on her blond ponytail with an amused grin.
“It’s the name. It happens all the time,” she said. She could feel her face blush and suspected that her blue eyes looked especially vivid next to her pink cheeks. The ponytail felt slobby suddenly. Who’d have guessed she wouldn’t be running with another female who’d look similar?
Beside them, there was the clink and whir of gears as the maze was set in place.