The exit exam comprised an excursion, which lasted over a period of several days, followed by twenty-five separate obstacle courses. There were riddles and puzzles to be solved, like those from the entrance exam. Every 3rd year squad, from Alpha to Delta, was expected to compete against each other and capture a minimum of 20 flags. The grueling six months of extensive training would prove whether any of the cadets were fit to graduate and be sent on the front lines. Anticipation, anxiety, and hopefulness filled the air as everyone crammed themselves inside the battalion situation room to prepare for the event.
While no one else noticed, Roudan tenderly kissed the side of Shevchenko’s neck. A few wisps of hair were in the way, but it did not deter his desire to show affection. She blushed and seemed pleasantly surprised by the gesture until she saw Yoshida and Savoi talking in her peripheral view. Savoi’s beaming grin showed she and Yoshida had mended their broken connection, or so it seemed. There was no way to interpret the subject of their conversation, but both parties appeared to be genuinely amused.
Shevchenko frowned as she turned in their direction. Her heart sank knowing Yoshida had long hoped Savoi would let him back into her graces, and Savoi was obviously ready to reconcile as well.
“A win for her means a loss for me,” Shevchenko thought with a heavy sigh. She looked at the crossed expression on Roudan’s face and straightened her posture. He shrugged, silently handed her a flask, and walked over to Farouk. She nursed her bruised ego later, as she nestled the flask inside her left breast pocket.
Farouk was the least enthusiastic soul in the room. His eyes were bloodshot, and he was nowhere near as talkative as usual.
“What’s bugging you so early this morning?
Farouk stood with his eyes shut, as if to be in a trance.
“I’d like to go back to bed. You know, to take another stab at trying to sleep,” he said.
Roudan chuckled for a moment, then realized Farouk’s tiredness was regarding what happened earlier in the night before when he brought Shevchenko to their barracks. It was not the best plan, but he knew Yoshida and Savoi were at their usual hangout spot beneath the overpass. That night, things got hot and heavy between him and Shevchenko. Once they got inside the room, their entangled bodies brushed up against a coatrack, which caused a tumbling sound. Farouk kept quiet and pretended to be asleep, as he planned to stay unrevealed for the duration of their tryst. He did not want to repeat the incident when Roudan and Yoshida snuck in female cadets from the Echo squad during their 1st year.
Shevchenko mustered enough annoyance to join Roudan and Farouk. She peered back at Yoshida and Savoi as they kept up their playful banter.
“They look awfully cozy,” Farouk noted, with one eye opened.
Shevchenko rolled her eyes.
“Maybe they need to get a room,” she replied.
Roudan was about to speak but was cut off by a female police officer who had short brown hair and hazel eyes.
“Cadet Roudan, General Benavides, would like to see you for a moment,” she said.
Roudan followed her outside.
“Wow, she’s incredible,” Farouk stammered, this time with both eyes opened.
Yoshida crept behind him and playfully slapped him on the shoulder.
“You should ask her out. She’s totally your type,” he teased.
Farouk looked as if he were strongly considering taking up the task. Wide grins shared between him and Yoshida forced Savoi to intervene.
“Don’t bother. Her name is Warrant Officer Kaitlyn Calamaan, and she is one of the battalion administrative secretaries.”
“Are you implying she’s out of his league?”
“Way out of his league,” Shevchenko cackled.
Farouk fixed his mouth to defend himself, but Savoi chimed in first.
“That’s not what I meant, silly goose.” She nudged Yoshida’s arm. “Kaitlyn is married to the other admin secretary, Warrant Officer Diana Calamaan. I met them both at my hearing with the Tribunal Council. They’re both strikingly beautiful, but unavailable. So, my assertion is that Maaz shouldn’t waste his time on someone already spoken for.”
Farouk was relieved of Savoi’s rescue. It had been a while since she had come to his aid in such a way that quelled Yoshida and Shevchenko’s thirst to poke fun at his expense.
Meanwhile, Roudan met with General Benavides in an office outside the situation room. He knew Benavides would want to be briefed on the Alpha squad’s progression towards graduation. Though there was nothing negative to report, Roudan always felt uneasy about their secret meetings. He kept his team in the dark about the impending doom that awaited them after their venture at Calvary academy.
The men stood in silence with only piercing glares. Benavides smirked at Roudan’s seemingly confident stance. Time was of the essence, so without warning, he rattled his thoughts out like a rapid-fire machine gun.
“New developments in the war have increased anxiety throughout the kingdom. Battlegrounds in key states have gotten worse since the last attack on the prior graduates. Even as we’ve amped up our training modules and modified our weapons, I’m uncertain that we can accomplish much. Our central intelligence has been compromised. Apparently, there is a traitor among us who is determined to see us fail and have the kingdom come to ruin.”
Roudan’s eyes watered as he processed what Benavides said.
“I’m sorry, Sir. I’m not understanding how I’m supposed to take this information,” he replied shakily.
Benavides became dismayed that Roudan was so easily shaken.
“I’m telling you this, so that you will be in the loop on what is about to happen,” he answered calmly.
Roudan took a step back to lean against the wall and shook his head.
“Then what is the point to any of this? The exit exam tests our skill levels, but if you’re saying it won’t make a difference, how does it help the kingdom?” he asked.
Benavides drew in a sharp breath.
“The exit exam, like all other exams and training here, are formalities which were set in place a long time ago. This was long before the kingdom was in the crisis that has overtaken us now. It seemed purposeful and had a significant impact on our successes. Everything has changed, and we are at the mercy of whomever has tainted the rules of the game. However, the rules of engagement are still intact. You will lead your squad to the designated drop zone. Unfortunately, this area is a hotspot and considered one of the deadliest territories.”
General Benavides left Roudan to sit with his thoughts. The burden of knowing they were headed to a highly concentrated conflict area meant imminent death for every single graduating cadet. Roudan did not return to the situation room until it had been nearly cleared out, and all that remained was his squad. He watched them as they surveyed the map and argued over who would take point on the excursion route. His team members seemed serious enough about the mission at hand, but not serious enough about their lives being in jeopardy.
Shevchenko stood next to Yoshida, as his mood soured after Savoi mentioned her near expulsion from the academy. It was obviously still a sore point for him. Shevchenko thought of using the opportunity to ingratiate him, though to no avail. He rebuffed her every attempt, and issued scornful glares instead. Yoshida did not bat an eye, yet Shevchenko’s eyes twitched with the swelling of tears.
Roudan disused the situation by delegating Yoshida to take Savoi and Farouk to the armory to collect their gear. Once they left, he and Shevchenko stood alone in the room. She took out the flask from her pocket and drank somberly.
“You might want to slow down with that. We have a long day ahead of us,” Roudan warned.
She quickly gulped the last of her drink to avoid an awkward reply. Roudan shuffled his feet, not knowing what to say either.
Finally, she cried, “He’s so stubborn. I don’t know why he’s still bent out of shape over a non-issue. Only a fool torments himself over a problem he can’t solve.”
“It seems to me that you’re in the same boat. If you’re looking for more reasons to dislike him, you may as well admit there was never a chance to begin with.” Roudan replied.
Disgruntled, he stormed off and slammed the door behind him.
~The Waring Robins~