2nd Year, P. 9

The trio headed towards the armory to find Yoshida. Shevchenko gave Farouk a relentless earful of scolding as Roudan carried him on his back.

“I hope you’ve learned your lesson after this,” she said.

Farouk reached inside his trouser pocket, and replied, “Yes ma’am.” Then he pulled out another chocolate truffle and whispered, “Don’t tell Emmett! I snuck this one off the worktable when Thomasa wasn’t looking.”

Shevchenko gasped and quickly snatched the candy from him as he snickered. She tucked it inside a pocket on her vest before Roudan curiously glance at her. With a flirtatious giggle, she abruptly pressed her bosom to his arm. The gesture caused Roudan to stagger in surprise.

“Um, Lily, are you alright?” he asked.

Farouk tried to hold in another snicker, but was unsuccessful. Shevchenko thought it best to distract Roudan from knowing about the second truffle.

“The temperature must’ve dropped since the sun went down. Tonight’s air has me chilly,” she replied as she pressed herself closer to his arm.

Roudan paid Farouk no attention, but did not know what to make of Shevchenko’s sudden teasing.

He stopped walking and said with a boyish grin, “You’re setting me up for failure. There’s no way I can concentrate now that I’m distracted.”

Shevchenko was flattered by his interest in her. She had nearly forgotten about Farouk until he squirmed on Roudan’s back. Roudan had never been mean spirited towards any of his squad members. Shevchenko was astounded that he did not rebuke Farouk, but nodded so they could continue their way.

“Thank you for doing this, Emmett,” she said, then quietly popped Farouk on the leg to make him sit still. “Is he heavy?”

Roudan chuckled.

“Not at all. Maaz is a featherweight, which is why the truffle hit him so hard.”

They arrived at the armory just in time to watch Yoshida release the junior cadets for the evening. He looked comfortable in charge of his crew. The junior cadets both respected and feared him. His previous career as 3rd lieutenant of the Gokudō made it impossible to ignore his prowess. Roudan had often wondered why General Benavides chose him as Skull Leader and Captain of the Alpha squad, instead of Yoshida.   

Roudan strolled up to the armory with Farouk in tow. He saluted Yoshida, then said, “Looking mighty sharp there, senpai.”

Yoshida slowly returned the gesture, puzzled by the peculiar arrival of his squad. Farouk also attempted a salute, but his exaggerated movements caused Roudan to lose balance. Roudan carefully set him down on his feet, but Farouk’s knees instantly buckled and legs gave way. With quick reflexes, Yoshida caught him before he fell to the ground. The men dusted themselves off and rushed to open the front door to the armory. Shevchenko scoffed, appalled by their folly, then entered first. Roudan had to steady Farouk with an arm around his waist as they stumbled inside behind Yoshida.

The armor’s office was piled with several weapons. Some were disassembled, while others had green tags. Yoshida and his crew had been busy with a requested inventory for weapons to be shipped out in the field. As acting sergeant, he could not leave the armory until all the weapons were accounted for. Which caused him to be moodier than usual.

Once inside, Farouk tried to salute Yoshida again. This time was less disastrous, though he still needed to brace himself on Shevchenko. She was annoyed and abruptly pushed him onto Roudan.

“Nice form,” Yoshida cackled.

Farouk stood at Parade Rest, and drunkenly replied, “Thanks. I managed pretty well, didn’t I?” He leaned back on Roudan and snickered. “Even though I ate the whole thing!”

Yoshida furrowed his brow in confusion.


Roudan shook his head and jabbed Farouk on the arm to silence him. It was Shevchenko’s scowl that made matters worse. Farouk stiffened up, and answered, “What?” as if he did not remember what he had said just moments ago. An awkward silence descended upon them until Yoshida walked to his desk with his hands in his pocket.

“Alright, I give up. Will someone please tell me what the hell is going on?” he asked.

Roudan and Farouk looked anxiously around the room, then Shevchenko blurted, “He’s a hot mess, and we have Thomasa to thank for it! She gave him drugged up chocolate candy, instead of being a real friend.”

Yoshida looked at Roudan, then at Farouk.

“Ok, but why’d you bring him here?” he asked calmly.

Roudan replied, “I’m embarrassed to admit I know nothing about how to sober him up, and clearly we can’t leave him alone.”

Yoshida smirked, slightly annoyed. He sat down and said, “There’s nothing to be done at this point. He will have to wait until it wears off.”

Shevchenko got more riled up as she watched Roudan wrestle to get Farouk settled in a chair.

“Thomasa should be tending to him. This isn’t fair to any of us,” she said.

“Well, it’s not like she knew he would take it all at once. Besides, she probably can’t leave the lab anymore for a while,” Roudan sighed.

Farouk perked up and interjected.

“It’s true. She told me so herself. I guess after what went on, Lt. Co. Adame will watch her like a hawk.”

Shevchenko gasped and looked at Roudan. They wondered if Farouk heard all that had transpired between Savoi and Molvik. Yoshida was none the wiser, and asked, “What do you mean?”

“I guess you wouldn’t know, since you’ve been stuck in here all day. Cadet Molvik heard from Charlie squad that they got in trouble last night watching you and Thomasa have sex in the computer lab,” Farouk sang as if it were lyrics to a song.

“It wasn’t the computer lab you dolt, it was the science lab!” Shevchenko shouted.

“Oh, yes! That makes more sense,” Farouk giggled.

Yoshida leapt to his feet, completely dumbfounded.

“Both of you are wrong! Those Charlies got what was coming to them on their own accord, and it had nothing to do with Thomasa and I having sex,” he replied.

Shevchenko felt a breath of relief for a moment.

“So, the rumor was a big fat lie?” she asked coyly.

~The Waring Robins~

2nd Year, P. 8

No sooner than Shevchenko settled herself on the backseat of the motorbike, Roudan sped off. He did not want to chance that she would change her mind. This was probably the most brazen move she had made since the night she announced her enrollment at the academy to her family. With so much going on with the war, Savoi, and Yoshida, there was no better time to drown all thoughts out with a high-speed trek through campus.

Calvary academy’s maximum speed limit of 35 MPH was dismissed in preference of the motorbike’s max of 75 MPH. The fierce rainstorm from the prior evening had long ceased and left the gift of a warm sunlit evening. Shevchenko was delighted to take in the fresh air and scenery as they drove through rainbow-reflected puddles. Not even the slightest hint of a chill came about. Only waves of pleasure and freedom washed over them. It was a defining moment, a treasure for both Shevchenko and Roudan. She allowed her long blonde hair to flail in the wind and carelessly tightened her arms around his waist. This was the closet physical contact between them since the entrance exam.

 He mused over how her attitude towards him had gone from cold to lukewarm, and in that moment, as warm as the sun. The combination of his confidence, swagger, and leadership abilities earned him her favor. During the year and a half of their enrollment at the academy, Roudan had mastered the art of balancing all their strengths against their weaknesses. The Alpha squad was considered a finely tuned machine. There were, of course, a few hiccups.

In the distance, on the backside of the library, a small figure clung to light a post. Roudan and Shevchenko zipped past the person until they realized it was Farouk. Roudan turned around to meet him. The boy giggled up a storm and sobbed all at once. He sang loudly in his native tongue and sounded like an injured cat. Roudan parked his bike and helped Shevchenko dismount.

“Maaz, what the hell is the matter with you?” she shouted as she slapped his cheeks.

“Oh, hello Lily. What are you doing out here?” he smirked.

“I asked you first,” she snapped.

Farouk plopped onto the ground, even as he still clung to the light post.

“Oh, it’s simple. I’m at the library. We just finished the study session for the flight exam,” he answered.

Shevchenko knelt beside him.

“Your study session ended hours ago. Why are you still here?” she asked.

Farouk giggled again, but when he saw Shevchenko’s scowl, he shushed himself and the light post.

“Oh, it’s simple,” he giggled. “I was stressed about the cram session, so I went to see Thomasa at the lab for one of her magical pep talks. She said she was busy and handed me a chocolate truffle. Her great advice was for me to take a small bite before and after my appointment.”

Roudan sighed heavily, which caused Shevchenko to look at them crossly.

“Maaz, did you eat the whole thing?” Roudan gently asked with concern.

Farouk nodded his head repeatedly and eventually bumped into the light post. He continued to giggle as Shevchenko helped him to his feet.

“Thomasa knows I love chocolate. I thought she was just sharing a snack with me. I imagined nothing would happen,” he said.

Shevchenko shook Farouk to stop his giggles.

“What in the world is the problem with a chocolate truffle?” she asked.

Roudan leaned to whisper in her ear.

“Thomasa is a master chemist with amazing abilities to create potions, serums, and, best of all, drugs,” he said.

Shevchenko looked at Roudan in disgust.

“She drugged him?”

Roudan smirked and replied, “More than likely the truffle was laced with something to calm his nerves, but he mistakenly didn’t follow her instructions on how to use it.”

Farouk began his dreadful song all over again with more tears. He stopped crying when Roudan hoisted him onto his back.

“Ooh, a piggyback ride!” he chimed with glee.

Roudan nodded for Shevchenko to collect the books off the ground.

“I’m sorry our road trip got sidelined,” she said.

Roudan chuckled.

“It’s alright. Our excursion will continue later if you’d like. Right now, we must sober him up,” he said.

Shevchenko pouted.

“Can’t we just take him back to the barracks?” she asked.

Roudan shook his head.

“Although drugs and alcohol aren’t specifically prohibited, extreme inebriation is frowned upon. I’m afraid our dear fellow is lit like a Christmas tree, which could reflect poorly on his evaluation. We can’t afford to let anyone see him in this state.”

Farouk finally stopped singing and buried his face in the back of Roudan’s head. Shevchenko was alarmed at his abrupt silence, and asked, “Maaz, are you alright?”

Farouk hesitated to respond, then lifted his head with a cackle.

“Oh, it’s simple. I’m fine!” He cut off his laugh and frowned. “Feels like I’m falling, but in the opposite direction.”

~The Waring Robins~

2nd Year, P. 7

Later that afternoon, Shevchenko waited at the barracks in her room alone. It startled her when Savoi hurriedly entered their living quarters without speaking. Tension immediately set in, as Shevchenko watched her roommate sift through the wardrobe drawer for a change of clothes. Right away, Shevchenko noticed her face was flushed with dried tear streams and a few of her braids had come undone. Shevchenko wondered what had brought Savoi to such an altered state, but also took offense at being ignored.

“Where the hell have you been?” Shevchenko asked.

Savoi continued to gather her shower toiletries in silence.

Shevchenko had been sitting on the lounge chair, but stood to hoover over Savoi.

“Oh, you will not speak? That’s just fine Thomasa. I think I know what’s going on here, and why you’re not talking. I guess it’s true,” Shevchenko pressed further.

Savoi looked up in surprise, with eyes wide as saucers, anticipating Shevchenko’s next sentence.

Shevchenko clicked her tongue indignantly, then said,

“Word on the street is that you were off getting busy with Haru last night.”

Savoi sighed in relief, then rolled her eyes. Shevchenko had already annoyed her with the ridiculous inquiry, but she spoke in a high-pitched tone that sounded like nails on a chalkboard. Savoi continued to gather her things without a word.

Shevchenko knew Savoi’s silence and body language were not a denial of guilt, nor a plea of innocence. Her voice cracked, as if she would cry, which made her angrier.

“So, it is true! Is that where you been all this time? Were you off screwing him all day?”

Savoi slammed her gear on the coffee table, then reached in her satchel to pull out a long manila envelope. She shoved it in Shevchenko’s hands. The envelope had CONFIDENTIAL stamped in red ink on top. Shevchenko opened the envelope and pulled out a file.

Savoi sighed, as if to be in deep thought.

“I had a fight with Molvik in the lab. It was the oddest thing, because I assumed he was gay,” she finally replied, then collected her belongs and headed for the door. Before she departed, she paused and turned to Shevchenko.

“Word of advice, Lilya Shevchenko; It might benefit the entire kingdom during this God forsaken war if you could loosen up… maybe find someone of your own to get busy with,” she said, then slammed the door behind her.

Savio’s nasty exchange was a hard pill for Shevchenko to swallow. Especially since she called her by her whole name. She slumped on her cot in tears at the thought of Savoi and Yoshida being intimate together. In her mind, she knew they had always gravitated toward each other like moths to flames. In her heart, she wished Yoshida fancied her instead. It was clear the latter would never come to fruition. With nothing left to consider, she laid on her back to read Savoi’s file.

An hour later, Shevchenko roamed aimlessly around campus. Farouk was in the library to study for his aviation exam. Savoi was more than likely back at the lab, and Yoshida was nowhere to be found. She bumped into Roudan coming out of the Shoppette. His hands were full of tools, and he had a slight grin when he nodded at her. She followed him to the other side of the store, where he was fixing a motorbike. Roudan was happy for her company, but surprised that she came with him.

“Taking a breather from Thomasa, I see,” he said as a conversation starter.

Shevchenko wasted no time in venting.

“It’s already bad enough I’ve covered her guard duty shifts every time she’s needed at the lab, but this latest incident is a doozy.” 

 Roudan laid down on his side to tinker with the bike.

“What happened now?” he laughed.

Shevchenko squatted down to quiet her voice.

“Apparently, she was working alone in the lab with cadet Molvik.”

“Oh yeah? What’s so special about that?”

“Word got out about Thomasa and Haru’s tryst.” She glared at him to see if he was familiar with the situation. When he did not reply, she continued.

“Molvik told everyone she threw herself at Haru.”

Roudan scoffed.

“I never liked that guy. He’s a meathead, just like his Delta dog brother.”

Shevchenko looked around to see if anyone was near enough to hear them, then leaned in closer to his ear.

“Things escalated when he tried to put the moves on her,” she whispered.

Roudan leaped up in wrath.

“Are you serious? Haru’s going to murder him, if I don’t get to him first!”

Shevchenko hushed him with a finger over his mouth. A few cadets passed by before she continued.

“There’s no need. Thomasa respectfully declined his advances, then proceeded to hand him his ass and nearly his head. They both were sent to the Brass. The Tribunal Council conducted a swift investigation. Molvik was expelled and dishonorably discharged from service. He won’t be able to enlist in any branch of the kingdom’s armed forces,” she replied.

Roudan knelt beside the bike and tinkered harder.

“And what of Thomasa?” he asked.

Shevchenko scoffed.

“Oh, she’s fine. Lt. Co. Adame wouldn’t allow anything to happen to his precious gifted child.”

Roudan signaled for her to sit next to him on the ground. The cold, hard concrete was uncomfortable, but no more than their conversation.

“Aw, come on now. We both know her skill set as a chemical technician has far superseded any of her peers. It’s a shame the citizens of Intagua Island had not been tapped sooner to enroll here. I get it, though. The islanders are minimalists, with no desire to conform to the standards of nobility. Thomasa was fortunate to have been adopted by General Malta and given her proxy to attend training with us,” he said.

Shevchenko sighed with the realization that Roudan would always be on Savoi’s side.

“She was also fortunate that General Malta created a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment before she retired from her post. Ultimately, I consider all this nothing more than a natural consequence. Thomasa’s erratic behavior has gone unchecked for quite some time now. If she threw herself at Haru, what did she expect would happen?”

“She didn’t throw herself at him,” he cackled.

“Were you there?” she asked indignantly.

Roudan put his arms up in surrender.

“No, but I know that she and Haru have had built-up sexual tension since the day of the entrance exam. They were bound to come to blows at some point,” he answered.

Shevchenko nudged him to press further.

“Are they a couple?”

Roudan studied her eyes. She clearly had a thing for Yoshida and needed to know if she still had a chance to be with him.

“It’s hard to say,” he answered dryly, then continued to work on the bike.

Shevchenko was unaware of Roudan’s disinterest in continuing the conversation.

“Haru hasn’t mentioned anything to you about his feelings for her?” she asked.

Roudan let out a faux gasp, then said,

“Despite what you might think, Lily, Haru and I are men of distinguished culture who don’t kiss and tell. Whatever his feelings are, they’re none of my business or concern.” He witnessed the pain in her eyes from their exchange and decided to lighten up the mood.

“Has Thomasa said anything to you?” he asked, knowing full well no such conversation would ever take place.

Shevchenko groaned, remembering how awful Savoi was to her earlier in the barracks.

“I can barely get three sentences out of her these days. It’s just surprising to me she wouldn’t wait for him to make the first moves. What kind of girl is she?”

Roudan smirked at Shevchenko’s disdain for Savoi.

“She’s an intelligent woman under a lot of pressure who knows that playing it safe never solved a single problem. Her boldness is an attractive superpower,” he replied.

Shevchenko shrugged her shoulders defiantly, then asked,

“Don’t tell me you’ve been enchanted by her as well?”

Roudan patted her on the top of her head to calm her down. When that clearly annoyed her more, he said,

“It’s not like that. Thomasa looks up to me as her big brother, and I see her as the little sister I never had. We share a bond in that we were both forced to enlist at the academy because of extenuating circumstances from our respective families.”

Shevchenko realized that Yoshida also was forced to enroll at Calvary to keep his crime family members safe from being tried for war crimes. Inevitably, the three of them were connected in ways she and Farouk were not. The thought made her feel lonely and out of their loop.

Roudan saw Shevchenko needed to calm herself, and the more they talked about Savoi or Yoshida, that would not be the case.

“Let’s try to take our minds off the gnarly stuff going on right now,” he said, then mounted his bike. He nodded for her to join him. She remembered how Savoi taunted her about needing to loosen up, then reluctantly agreed.

~The Waring Robins~

2nd Year, P. 6

Yoshida allowed Savoi to remain rested on his chest long after Lt. Co. Adame had swept the Charlies away. He stroked her bare back until she stopped trebling. Silently, she eased herself up to clasp her bra. He lingered for a few moments to allow his body time to settle, then sat upright on the table with his back turned away from her for more privacy.

The lecture hall was dimly lit, with only the stars and moon to offer light through the bay windows. Savoi slightly panicked as she searched her area in silence. Yoshida hopped off the worktable and knelt to retrieve her blouse. He handed it to her with his face turned away. Once she was fully dressed, she nudged him to get up and their eyes met. He could not read her disposition to determine if she was ashamed, remorseful, or resentful. An onset of steady rain interrupted their awkward gaze.

“We should get going,” she said, then darted towards the exit.

Yoshida followed Savoi through the rainstorm behind the planetarium building, beneath a large overpass. He had never been to this location, and did not know it existed. The space was decorated with a semblance of furniture. There were two metal stools, a makeshift metal table, and a worn-out mattress. He watched Savoi as she sat on a stool and pulled a tin box from under the mattress. She opened the box to retrieve a match and an unusual-looking cigarette. When she lit it, the smell of cotton candy and a hint of marijuana filled the air.

She took a long drag, then offered the joint to him. Yoshida was stunned to see Savoi smoking, but her behavior earlier made this event par for the course. He took a long drag as well to calm his nerves. The initial pull was smooth and sweet, but soon after, he felt as if flames scorched the back of his throat. He felt an instant rush to his core and was dizzied.

“This is some potent stuff! What’s in it?” he choked.

Savoi cackled, as she did not imagine he would have such a reaction.

“Oh, just a little of this and a little of that. I designed it myself. Do you like it?” she asked, still amused by his astonishment.

He held out his index finger to signal his coughing fit was nearly over. Then, with a single tear that clung to an eyelash, he smirked.

“Now I know the real reason Lt. Co. Adame orders you at the lab all the time.”

With a devilish grin, she said, “If you only knew the half of it.”

Yoshida’s second pull on the cigarette was deliberately slower. Though the flames still burned his throat, he handled the discomfort better and eased into a mellow buzz. As the steady stream of rain lulled them, the pair took turns to puff out pink clouds of smoke. Yoshida made impressive donut holes, while Savoi made hearts. She fell into a fit of laughter when Yoshida puffed an unfamiliar-looking object.

“What’s that supposed to be?” she giggled.

Yoshida took another hit, then replied, “It was supposed to be a dragon.”

They both laughed at the preposterous notion.

Savoi took the cigarette from him and peered hard at the image before it evaporated.

“Looked more like an elephant to me,” she said.

Yoshida knelt to her and looked crossly into her now bloodshot eyes.

“Speaking of elephants in this room; perhaps we should discuss what happened between us on the balcony and in the lecture hall,” he said.

Savoi had been slumped over the table, but sat straight as possible on the stool.

“Do we really need to revisit that right now?” she asked.

“Hell yes,” Yoshida cackled. “That was intense and insane!”

Savoi grinned briefly, then pouted her lips.

“I was only trying to help, and didn’t mean for things to go that far. For that, I apologize. If you’re pissed at me, I understand,” she said.

Yoshida was too high to read her body language. The prior scenario was already strenuous because of his encounter with the Charlie squad. He knew he wasn’t angry, but surprised by her course of actions. If nothing, he was relieved that violence was unnecessary to end the situation.

He playfully bopped her on the nose with his index finger, then said, “I’m not pissed at you. I just need to know what you were thinking? Where did all of that come from?”

She returned the gesture to him and smiled.

He crossed his arms as he stood to tower over her.

“What would’ve happened if Lt. Co. Adame hadn’t come around?”

Savoi sat quietly for a moment, then blurted,

“I’m not sure. I didn’t have a plan. I made it all up as we went along.” Then she stood up to look him in the eyes. “I’ve never been with anyone like that before.”

Yoshida was taken aback by her confession. He licked his lips and reminisced about their make-out sessions on the balcony and the lab.

“Wait, you mean to tell me you’ve never kissed a boy or anything?”

Savoi shook her head.

“Nope. I often rely on my imagination for the things I’ve never experienced.”

Yoshida chuckled nervously.

“You could’ve fooled me. Hell, you fooled those Charlie dopes for sure.”

Savoi handed him the cigarette, then staggered over to the mattress and plopped down. She savored the satisfaction of his answer.

“Well, with your infinite number of intimate partners, I will have to take your word for it,” she replied.

Yoshida took offense at her dig.

“What do you mean by that?” he asked.

Savoi reclined on her elbows and hummed whimsically.

“Oh, nothing. Just that you have a mob of fangirls madly in love with you,” she replied.

Yoshida took another long drag and held in the smoke for a few seconds. As he exhaled, he asked, “Are you one of them?”

Savoi snickered and struggled to sit up.

 “Yes, I am,” she proudly proclaimed.

Yoshida blinked repeatedly. There was no way he could have misinterpreted what she said. He had known for some time that they shared a mutual attraction, but nothing was set in motion.

Her temperament has been off for a while now,” he thought. “Perhaps she’s just acting out to blow off steam.”

He kneeled in front of her on the mattress. There was a certain sincerity in her eyes that he could not shake.

“Are we to become a couple now?” he asked jokingly.

Savoi frowned and ran her hand through his hair.

“That wouldn’t be a good idea,” she whispered. When he tensed up, she continued.

“It’s not because of your past, but rather your future. You will do amazing things for our kingdom. I don’t want to hold you back.”

Yoshida was moved by her words. Just as he leaned in to kiss her, Roudan sprinted under the overpass.

“Whew, it’s raining cats and dogs and cows out here tonight,” he belted.

When he removed the hood from his fleece jacket, he saw Yoshida and Savoi. She quickly retrieved the cigarette and took a drag.

Roudan grinned.

“You started without me, Thomasa,” he said, then looked at Yoshida.

“Haru, I didn’t know you’d be here.”

Yoshida stood up to greet him with their usual fist bump.

“I followed Thomasa here. I didn’t realize this was a hang-out spot for you guys,” he replied.

Roudan pulled a copper flask from his pants pocket and took a swig. He offered a drink to both Yoshida and Savoi, but they both declined.

“Oh, yeah. Thomasa and I have been coming here once a week since the end of the first term,” he said.

Savoi perched herself up from the mattress, then gave the rest of the cigarette to Roudan.

“There’s another one in the box,” she said, and looked at Yoshida playfully. “It was nice kicking it with you. I hate to go, but I’ve got to get back to the lab.”

As she departed, Yoshida and Roudan sat on the stools. They lit the second cigarette and smoked it together in silence.

“Is there something on your mind, senpai?” Roudan asked.

Yoshida did not hesitate to answer.

“She’s changed, a lot. How did I miss it?”

Roudan folded his arms on the table and rested his head.

“It’s the lab. Whatever demands they’ve made from her have produced the woman you now see. She isn’t a little girl anymore,” he sighed.

Yoshida knew Roudan was right. Whatever business she had going on at the lab had major adverse effects. Although Savoi had always been feisty, her new demeanor had taken on an aggressive tone. Out of all the women he came across, none were ever so brazen enough to come on to him in the manner she did. Most of them were timid and waited for him to make the first moves. A year ago, Savoi would not have done such things. Yoshida realized Roudan had become her confidant. He couldn’t begrudge such a noble gesture, considering Roudan had also become a like-minded dark soul. The two of them were carriers of secret burdens brought on by the war, and spent time together commiserating with drugs and alcohol.  

~The Waring Robins~

2nd Year, P. 5

A tranquil morning was interrupted by a verbal scuffle in the chow hall between Yoshida and three male cadets from the Charlie squad. Yoshida was overheard hurling insults at a portly cadet named Drafus. A group of amused onlookers surrounded them. The senior staff rarely interfered with non-violent shenanigans among the cadets. With no one to intervene, Yoshida to brazenly took jabs at Drafus.

“Now look, Drafus, I take what I said back. It’s not so much that you’re fat, but from what I’ve seen, you always are the first in line for chow and the last to leave. Even during the field exercises, you pack twice as many MREs than the rest of us. I doubt there’s a meal that you’ve ever missed,” he jested.

The crowd went wild at Yoshida’s dig. Drafus stood, infused with wrath, unable to conjure an equally devastating joke. His squad mates were also at a loss for how to recover from such a blow.

Yoshida felt emboldened by his audience’s amusement, so he continued to taunt Drafus.

“I actually would like to congratulate you on your dedication to service. If your commitment out in the field is anything like your devotion to food, the dueling houses will have no chance against such a powerful opponent.”

By then, Drafus was fed up. He pounded his fist on a table and said,

“Damn you, ruffian! Pull out the regulations book. You’ll see that I’m well within the standards. My BMI has always passed the test.”

“Ha!” Yoshida scoffed. “How many hours did it take to assess your body fat?” He looked at the crowd, then back at Drafus. “I’ll tell you. It took well over two hours and three senior officers to declare you fit. That’s hardly a flex to boast about.”

Snickers and jeers from the other cadets sent the chow hall into an electrified frenzy. Drafus grabbed a blue plastic food tray from the nearby rack and held it up in the air. The crowd suddenly hushed in anticipation of his next move. Yoshida did not flinch. He was uncertain if Drafus was angry enough to hit him with the tray, but there was no way he would shy away from an opponent. With crossed arms, Yoshida waited for what seemed like an eternity. Still, nothing happened.

Yoshida had grown weary of the situation.

 “Hurry and make your move, Drafus. I have duty at the armory in six minutes,” he sighed.

Drafus did not budge. He worried he was in over his head, and did not know what would happen if Yoshida took the hit well. Yet, he also pondered if he had enough strength to take his antagonist with one strike.

Yoshida yawned loudly, then said, “Look, if you swing at me right now, I guarantee we can be finished with this asinine spar in less than two minutes. The clock is ticking.”

Drafus froze in place. Many rumors about Yoshida drifted through the academy. The rumor everyone knew to be true was about his affiliation with the Gokudō crime syndicate. The large Komodo dragon tattooed on Yoshida’s back was hard to miss whenever they were at the shower rack. Which meant Yoshida was no stranger to violence. Drafus knew it would be extremely hard to beat Yoshida, even with the help of his two squad mates. His train of thought was abruptly interrupted when the crowd chanted.

“Make your move!” 

Yoshida opted to walk away from Drafus without so much as another word. He had not intended to get into a clash with anyone that morning. Fortunately, he had witnesses who could testify that Drafus was the initial agitator when an unapologetic collision in the chow line went unchecked. Anticipated would backlash would follow, but for the time being he was content to leave things as they were. Besides, Drafus and his squad members knew better than to attempt an assault in one of the busiest buildings on campus. They would have to wait for a more opportune time to finish what had been started.

Yoshida confidently made his way to the armory, where he had been promoted to fill in for Staff Sergeant Marsden, who had recently been placed on medical leave after his ill-fated deployment to Nerou. The armorer’s main duties were to issue weapons for the range, oversee weapon maintenance, and log damaged inventory. Yoshida’s extensive knowledge of knowledge of weapons made him an asset for the academy. 

At 1700 hours, his shift was over. All the weapons had been returned from the range, were cleaned, and accounted for. Yoshida dismissed the junior cadets and locked the armory for the evening. As he made his way towards the barracks, he noticed Drafus standing a few feet away and two other cadets in his peripherals. He quicksteped down a flight of stairs, past the auxiliary building. Before long, three more cadets had joined the ranks. Yoshida was exhausted and in no mood to pick up where he left off with Drafus that morning.

The group trailed close behind, so he took bigger strides and eventually began a light jog. Savoi spotted him as she departed from the library. She eagerly sprinted to catch up to him, and said,

“Haru! I thought Emmett gave us a rest day from running?”

Yoshida cackled.

“Oh, hello Thomasa. No, this is not a training session. I’m actually in the middle of something.” He patted her on the top of her head. “You best be on your way and enjoy your rest. I will chat with you later.”

She abruptly grabbed his hand and led him through the motor pool complex. Charlie squad was still in hot pursuit of Yoshida, and now Savoi. The pair ran inside an office building, up to the fourth floor, where there was a balcony area. The brisk air in the night sky was refreshing after such a long haul.

Savoi hoisted herself up on the stone balcony and wrapped her legs around Yoshida’s waist to clinch him in an embrace. Her muscular thighs made it nearly impossible for him to break free. The disgruntled Charlies arrived shortly after. Both they and Yoshida were surprised by Savoi’s behavior. She unbuttoned his uniform jacket, leisurely caressed his chest, and kissed his neck.

“Thomasa, this really isn’t a good time,” Yoshida gasped.

She chuckled, then whispered.

“Normally I see you with a gang of fangirls, but I say nothing because it isn’t my business.” She slowly grazed his ear with her mouth, then said, “Tonight there are six gnarly looking boys behind you who look pissed. I don’t know what kind of foolishness you’ve gotten into, but I know our team would be at a loss if you were to be expelled for fighting them.” She looked him in the eyes, and continue. “I would be at a loss without you. So, for mercy’s sake, play along and follow my lead.”

Yoshida was speechless. Before he could respond, she stroked the back of his hair, then on to the nape of his neck. Without warning, her lips seized his. They fiercely groped each other with total abandonment. The Charlie squad was completely flabbergasted, but could not turn away from gawking at the seductive pair. Lost in thought, Yoshida felt pangs of lust. Their tongues glided together so easily that he had all but forgotten it was merely a ruse.

Suddenly, Savoi ended the make-out session and eased herself off the balcony. She took Yoshida’s hand and exited through another walkway. This time, they ran all the way to the science complex to the laboratory. She unlocked the sliding doors with her access badge, but quickly punched in a code which left the doors slightly ajar.

The Charlie squad followed them through the lab to a lecture hall. They watched as Savoi prompted Yoshida to lie down on a worktop table. Once he was in position, she straddled and grinded herself on his pelvic area. Soon kissing and groping continued, as before. Drafus and his squad mates murmured among each other. They were impressed, but could not believe Savoi would seduce Yoshida right in front of them.

Yoshida himself was completely at a loss for words. Savoi’s intentions to save him from being expelled had taken a turn he never imagined. His thoughts were dulled, but his body was heightened with excitement. This could not be helped. Savoi took matters up a notch when she unbuttoned and removed her blouse. They could feel the eyes of Drafus and his cronies peering at them like vultures. She reached behind to unbutton her bra, then stopped.

Suddenly, she trembled, and her eyes teared. Yoshida, though aroused, woke from his dream-like state. With wide-eyes, the realization that she could go no further hit him. He gently pulled her on to his chest. Moments later, the voice of Lt. Co. Adame was overheard in the distance. He addressed the six members of the Charlie squad.

“What are you doing here? You have no authorization to be in this building. Come with me at once!”

Lt. Co. Adame dragged the cadets away to his office, as Savoi laid half naked on top of Yoshida.

~The Waring Robins~

2nd Year, P. 4

Savoi was promptly admitted to the infirmary and treated for dehydration. A solution of saline and other fluids was injected into her arm. She laid on a cot in a small room and waited for the drip tube to be fully drained. Farouk patiently sat next to her.

“How are you feeling, Thomasa?” he asked.

She looked at him and responded slowly.

“Right now, I’m in a world of hurt.”

Her words frightened him. He stood and leaned over to observe her vitals on the EKG monitor.

“Everything looks fine. Your levels are almost back to normal. Are you in any pain?” he asked.

Silence engulfed the room. Savoi searched her mind to find the best description for what she felt. Everything was foggy. She had been this way for weeks, but managed to successfully accomplish all her tasks. She became unraveled at the battalion run because this was a mission that she could not position herself to prevail in.

Farouk gently stroked her forehead.

“Don’t worry about the battalion run. It was supposed to be meant as a morale booster, but the news of what happened to the deployed 3rd year class has cast a dark shadow over all of us.”

Savoi did not stir at his comment.

Farouk became anxious, so he continued to speak.

“Emmett feels bad about the way he yelled at you.”

Savoi hoisted herself up on the cot.

“You saw that?” she asked fretfully.

“No. I only heard about it from the other cadets who ran in the rear. Everyone was surprised that you couldn’t keep up. Haru took over for calling cadence so that Emmett could fall back with you,” he solemnly confessed.

Savoi slowly slumped back down with a stream of tears. A deep sense of dread came over her.

“I’ve never been fast,” she murmured.

Farouk pulled his stool closer to the cot and sat down.

“What do you mean? This was a distance run, which you only needed to keep up with the formation. Speed was not a factor,” he said.

Savoi glared at him in total despair, which moved him to tears.

“Thomasa, if you’re not feeling well, you need to say something. This is not like you at all. Please tell me what’s the matter. Maybe I can help you,” he pleaded.

Savoi sat up again and mustered as much energy as possible to share her feelings. She choked up as she spoke.

“I thought I could handle all of this. For a moment, I did my very best. Now, I don’t know if I can hang in there,” she wept.

Farouk was confused, as he could not imagine what was the source of her troubles.

“Thomasa, I don’t understand. You’ve done amazing work this term. The grade grid has shown that your lowest exam score was 97%. Your grasp of the coursework is phenomenal. Is it the lab? Is the course load too much for you?” he asked.

Savoi stiffened, as if she had seen a ghost. Suddenly, a male nurse entered the room. He checked the EKG monitor, then looked at Savoi.

“The fluid bag is almost empty, but you look as pale as you did when you were admitted an hour ago. Perhaps I will add vitamin D3 to the solution,” he said, then called for another nurse to bring a syringe.

Once the solution was added, both nurses exited the room. Savoi asked them to shut the door on the way out. She leaned over to Farouk and took his hand.

“Maaz, what I’m about to tell you needs to stay between us in this room,” she said.

He warily nodded for her to proceed.

She spoke in a hushed whisper.

“As you know, Lt. Co. Adame selected me to work with the remaining 3rd years in the laboratory. At first, my assignment was to inventory and catalog chemical agents that were sent from the field. He took a special interest in me when I could identify specific properties within the chemicals.” She leaned in closer and spoke lower. “This is classified information, but I came across some hazardous properties that would blow your mind if you knew what they could do. This war is unfair, because someone has cheated the system with harmful germs that can do long-term damage within the kingdom.”

Farouk was shaken to his core. He did not know what to do with the information Savoi had revealed to him. The blank stare in his eyes let her know she should refrain from divulging anything else. The burden of this information was hers alone to carry. She pretended to be tired and laid down to rest. Farouk did not want to press the situation, so he let her sleep.

A week went by before Savoi was cleared to return to duty. She assured her teammates that she was well enough to train harder than ever. Roudan led the Alpha squad to the beachside nightly. He fashioned fitness drills to maximize their workout sessions. This was the best measure of action to prepare for the tactical exam. Every night, they began with the same dialogue. Roudan would stand in front of the team to say,

“You guys know why we’re here. I won’t waste time with a long drawn out speech. I will just say this much; You will have to pay me what you owe.”

Savoi always asked. “How much do we owe?”

He would grin, and reply, “All of it. Give me all of yourselves, and I promise you won’t regret it.”

~The Waring Robins~

2nd Year, P. 3

Shevchenko sat in a cozy wing chair beside the library’s roaring fire place to study the night before the Morphology exam. The entire chamber bustled with dozens of cadets amid study sessions. She anxiously flipped through her flashcards, disgruntled by the noise and the fact that she had been waiting for Savoi to join her for well over an hour. To drown out the chatter, she closed her eyes and whispered recited words to herself.

“Morphology. The study of the form of words.”

“That would be linguistics. Morphology is the study of the form of things,” a familiar voice whispered in her ear.

Shevchenko peered through one eye to see Savoi standing next to her. She pulled away and said with a grimace,

“I know that.”

Savoi frowned at her.

Shevchenko stiffened in her seat.

“That’s what I meant,” she said.

Savoi hurriedly sat in an empty chair and sifted through her satchel. Shevchenko sighed incredulously.

“Nice of you to grace me with your presence, oh gifted one.”

Savoi held her tongue and continued to rummage through her bag. She plucked out a binder at least three volumes thick with some highlighter markers. This infuriated Shevchenko, so she pressed further.

“Punctuality is of the utmost importance. How do you expect to effectively support your team in the field if you’re late in their hour of need?”

Savoi pretended to ignore her comment and quietly marked through the pages in her binder. After several minutes of silence, she stood up and shoved the binder in Shevchenko’s lap.

“Here are my notes for the exam. Be sure to focus on the areas that are highlighted. The last four pages are specifically for Haru,” she said.

Shevchenko raised her brow.

“Why does he need specific notes?” she asked.

Savoi stuffed her markers into her bag. Before she marched away, she said,

“He asked for a private study session. I didn’t have time to meet with him, because of my work at the lab. I don’t want him to feel like I brushed him off.”

Shevchenko grabbed her by the arm with a pleading look in her eyes.

“Why would Haru ask you for a private study session when I’m the linguistics specialists in our squad?” she asked.

Savoi slung her satchel onto her left shoulder. Her patience disappeared as she eyed Shevchenko.

“He nearly failed the Semantics exam under your watch. Punctuality is important, but practicality is pertinent as well,” she replied and stormed off.

Ten minutes later, the rest of the squad joined Shevchenko in the library. She presented the binder, but did not divulge that it came from Savoi. She did not have time to hide the notes meant for Yoshida. He found them in the back of the book and was elated.

“So, Thomasa didn’t blow me off after all,” he beamed.

Shevchenko snatched the binder from him.

“Let me see that,” she said.

There were four very detailed notes with color-coded annotations. A small sticky note was attached on the bottom of the first page. Farouk read the note aloud.

“Haru, please don’t be sore with me. Everything you need to know is listed in alpha-numeric order. I know you will fare well on this exam.”

“Looks like your girl came through for you after all,” Roudan chuckled.

Yoshida held the documents as if they were sacred and grinned.

“Your girl?” Shevchenko scoffed. “She only helped in the eleventh hour. We could have used these notes twelve days ago.”

Farouk frowned at Shevchenko, while the others glared in silence. She knew they would not allow her to berate Savoi without biting back. Reluctantly, she settled down. Time was of the essence, and the binder would be their saving grace. Everyone agreed to table any sidebar conversations so they could dedicatedly study. The team did not want to squander any of Savoi’s efforts in vain, and their work paid off with high marks on the exam.

Climate changes from the effects of chemical warfare caused the snow to abruptly melt, and a heatwave took its place. General Benavides announced a battalion run would be performed for the tactical pretest. The 1st, 2nd, and remaining 3rd year cadets from every squad, (Alpha thru Delta), would take part in a 5K run. Late in the evening, just before midnight, all of Calvary academy stood together in formation on the beachside of campus.

News of the ill-fated fleets of 3rd year cadets deployed to Nerou spread quickly. The senior staff gave several renditions of motivational speeches to raise morale. Roudan ran beside the Alpha squad and called out a cadence as they took off. The unit moved in unison during a third of the run. Eventually, the slower runners broke rank. They were guided to the rear of the formation.

Savoi shut her eyes and sighed. Her stomach cramped and throat tightened. She paced herself as best as she could, though she found she could not keep up. Roudan fell back to run alongside her.

“Cadet Savoi, do you want to fail?” he snarled sharply.

During her time on the vast Malta estate, Savoi never had been much of a fast runner. In fact, General Malta encouraged her to pursue other athletic goals. Which is why she did not respond to him. Through teary eyes, she looked ahead to see the far distant formation disappear as she trailed behind. Roudan realized harsh words would not suffice. His affection for Savoi would take a nasty turn if he continued to dig. Silently, he took off to reassemble back with his squad. 

Savoi was last at the finish line. Her heart sank, and for the first time, she walked with her eyes glued to the ground. Thick beads of sweat dripped and labored breathing overwhelmed her entire body. The humiliation of being the weakest link stung her pride like an angry wasp. The battalion remain at attention, as General Benavides gave another speech. Every head restrained from turning to gawk in astonishment. Shevchenko stood in formation, completely satisfied that she had finally bested Savoi in a task, and refused to conceal the smugness of her victory from anyone.

After the formation was officially dismissed, Roudan walked alone and contemplated how to strengthen his squad. “As long as we don’t give up, we can find our footing.” He thought. “We shouldn’t waste valuable time undermining each other’s skills. We were put together as the Alpha squad because our strengths complement each other, and our weaknesses are will be sharpened like a hot blade.”

Savoi was sent to the infirmary, as her breathing pattern had not returned to normal. She requested Farouk to escort her. Roudan felt a tinge of guilt for his actions during the run.

“Maaz, please take care of Thomasa,” he said.

Farouk nodded and departed

“I was hard on her when she fell back to the rear,” Roudan said, as he kicked a mound of sand.

Yoshida placed his arm on Roudan’s shoulder.

“Thomasa is tough. She will be alright. Perhaps she’s fatigued from being overworked at the lab,” he said.

Shevchenko scoffed.

“Do you hear yourselves right now? Thomasa isn’t the goddess you all think she is. Just because she became Lt. Co. Adame’s lab rat doesn’t mean that she should fall behind in the standards of being a soldier.”

Roudan furiously shrugged and walked away.

“I can’t get into this with you right now, Lily. I’m going to see if I can get an update on her condition,” he said.

Shevchenko blinked, astounded by the manner of his tone.

“Why is everyone so pissed at me? We knew from the entrance exam that Thomasa sucked at running. This just goes to show; she isn’t great at everything,” she stammered.

Yoshida lowered his voice so that he would not be heard scolding his squad mate.

 “Your visible animosity towards Thomasa in inexcusable, and is surely the cause of discord among the team,” he growled.

Shevchenko stood, shocked at his accusation.

“in order for there to be discord, there would need to be an active dispute between us. Thomasa regularly disregards most of my opinions,” she replied.

“That’s because she’s rather introspective and cautious about speaking carelessly when it concerns others,” he said.

“Are you trying to say she’s been sparing my feelings?” Shevchenko gasped.

“Very much so,” he answered.

“How can you be for certain? Are you a mind reader?” she asked and watched him unreservedly muse over the idea of knowing Savoi’s thoughts.

“There it is, again,” she said.

Yoshida grinned. “What?”

“The look you get whenever you think of her.”

“What look? This is just my regular face,” he said.

Shevchenko sighed grievously.

“No, it isn’t. You don’t look that way for anyone but her. Just now, it was as if you’re dying to be privy to the conversations that go on in her head.”

Yoshida leaned in to whisper in her ear.

“Actually, I live for it. Thomasa is a genius. She just might be the salvation of this kingdom if she can figure out a way to end the war. I don’t want to miss any of it, and will do everything possible to help achieve that goal.”

Shevchenko pursed her lips.

Yoshida swiftly patted her on the back and said, “Don’t be so uptight. It might do you some good to channel that version of yourself who stood frozen on the ballroom steps waiting for your life to change in a positive direction.”

His words struck her to the core. She never imagined that he paid any attention to the inner details of her memory sequence. It was true that she felt stuck in a hopeless situation that was not of her own doing, and would have given anything to change the tide.

With a stiff jaw, Shevchenko reluctantly agreed to participate in helping Savoi become a faster runner.

~The Waring Robins~

2nd Year, P. 2

There was little time for celebratory merits from the land navigation exam. Rigorous core training continued seamlessly. One of the training exercises comprised service on the Arms Guard in the artillery room. General Benavides took it upon himself to approach Roudan during his service. The cadets had been on duty for nearly 24 hours. Roudan was exhausted, and his uniform was disheveled. He perked up and stood at attention once he saw the senior officer come down the corridor.

Benavides smirked at the gesture. Without hesitation, he commanded, “At ease, soldier.” He pulled out a cigar. Roudan once again declined his offer to take one. The General quickly lit the cigar and took a long drag. After he exhaled, he continued to speak. “As you are aware, the kingdom remains in turmoil at this very hour. The war is far from over. Over half the 3rd year cadets have been deployed to stop the damage. Even with our best intelligence unit at the fold, there is little grasp of what the future holds as far as the war is concerned.”

Roudan’s eye twitched with discontent as he tucked the back of his dress shirt further inside his trousers. He was unsure how to respond, so he remained silent. Benavides nodded through a spaced-out gaze. “I haven’t forgotten how skilled you are at tactical reasoning. You will serve the academy and kingdom well when you whip your squad into shape. Everyone is counting on your success,” he said.

Roudan dimly smiled. He wondered if the same pressure had been placed on his uncle and brother during their enrollment at Calvary academy. He also wondered if General Benavides had forgiven their trespasses, since he had not mentioned it at all. One thing he knew for certain; all eyes would be watching his every maneuver as Skull Leader and captain of the coveted Alpha squad. It was imperative that he help them shine to become the best defense against the dueling houses.

An hour later, the night watch completed their shift. Roudan returned to the barracks just before sunrise. Farouk was still asleep, while Yoshida slumped in the lounge chair.

“What’s got you beat?” Roudan asked as he unbuttoned his dress shirt.

Yoshida let out a long sign, which turned into a yawn.

“Thomasa stood me up,” he answered.

Roudan sifted through his laundry bag to find a fresh pair of shorts, but turned intuitively and chuckled.

“I didn’t know you guys had a date. Is she finally ready to give you some play?”

Yoshida promptly flung a pillow back at him, which woke Farouk.

“Thomasa isn’t that kind of girl,” Farouk whined.

Yoshida leapt up and belted, “It wasn’t an actual date, you dolts!”

Roudan held his arms out in surrender.

“I was just kidding. We know she is a good girl. Which is why I wondered what she would be doing with the likes of you?” he said.

Yoshida walked over to his clothes hamper and found a clean pair of shorts, which he loaned to Roudan.

“Morphology. I figured since Thomasa aced the Land Navigation exam so easily, she’d give me a few pointers,” he said.

Roudan and Farouk looked crossly at each other.

“Why didn’t you just ask Lily?” Roudan asked.

Farouk crawled out of bed and pulled some clean socks from his dresser draw for Roudan.

“Yeah, linguistics is her field specialty,” he interjected.

Yoshida paused for a moment, then scoffed.

“True, but Lily is often monotonous with her delivery. The last time she took point on our study sessions, I nearly failed the Semantics exam because she bored me to sleep.”

Roudan shook his head to keep from cracking up.

“She’s not that dry.”

The trio briefly looked at each other in silence, then burst into an eruption of laughter.

Roudan collected the articles of borrowed clothing and paced about the room to look for his shower shoes.

“Well, where was Thomasa? Why didn’t she meet you to study?” he asked.

Farouk reached inside the lounge chair cushion and pulled out one of Roudan’s shoes.

“I saw her head to the lab with that Molvik fellow,” he said.

Yoshida lifted a pillow from Roudan’s cot to retrieve the other shoe.

“That knucklehead Molvik demands her time often. It’s like she’s at his beckoning call or something.”

“Molvik. Molvik. Why does that name ring a bell?” Roudan asked.

Yoshida handed him a clean towel and replied, “That’s because you beat up his younger brother the night of the Entrance ball.”

Roudan gathered his belongings and headed for the door.

“Oh yeah, that Delta dog! He sure was an ugly mutt. I wonder whatever became of him and his flea-bitten crew?”

“Most of the Delta squad bottomed out and were recycled. His older brother is a 3rd year in the Bravo squad,” Farouk answered as he handed Roudan a bar of soap. With his hands already full, there was no place for the soap to go.

Yoshida mindlessly stuffed the soap in Roudan’s pants pocket.

“Well, the older brother can’t be all that great. Especially since he wasn’t selected to deploy with his class of 3rd year cadets. I can’t imagine what Thomasa sees in him,” he scowled.

Roudan departed for the shower rack. The topic of Molvik, the 3rd year Bravo who hadn’t deployed with his class, weighed on him heavily. He was reminded of General Benavides’s demand that the Alpha squad rise above their current standing. This would be no easy feat.

~The Waring Robins~

2nd Year, P. 1

The beginning of the 2nd year’s term boomed in with an intense wintery blast. Calvary academy appeared like an enchanted snow fortress from a dark fairytale. The premise of a new looming war cast a menacing shadow over the delicate mounds of snow. Training was no longer a simple, competitive wager between the squads. Every merit point would bring each cadet closer to realizing their duty stations. All hearts geared toward the most prominent state of Nerou, where the battle between the dueling houses was born.

Early one frosty morning, Shevchenko laid in her cot with her eyes wide open. She had tossed and turned so fretfully through the night that her legs were tangled in the linen. The cold air seeped through a cracked window, which combatively chilled the beads of sweat over her body. She concluded sleep would not prevail, then made a mad dash to the shower cabin to beat others with the same desire for a scalding hot bath.

After a quick wash up, she returned to her barracks room and finished getting ready for the day. Savoi had just stirred in her bed as she headed out for breakfast. Roudan, Yoshida, and Farouk were already in the chow hall line when she arrived. The four sat silently in their booth and slowly ate. Nothing could rouse them from the dreary mood that lingered among them.

Forty-five minutes after they sat down to eat, Shevchenko noticed Yoshida’s gaze from across the room. Savoi stood in the chow line, seemingly forlorn and spaced out. The buttons on her blue wool overcoat were mismatched and looked a size larger than her actual frame. She was less than her usual cheery self. Farouk stuffed the last bite of toast in his mouth, then waved for her to join their booth. She nodded with a yawn.

“Boy, aren’t we a sorry lot,” Roudan sighed. “Even Thomasa has taken to brooding.”

Yoshida stiffen his jaw as he continued to study her demeanor. It was undeniable that she appeared to be in a funk, which had never been her normal state of mind.

“Maybe this cold winter doesn’t agree with her so much,” he said.

Farouk swigged his orange juice quickly, then chimed in with his theory.

“Your assertion might be correct, Haru. Islanders aren’t familiar with snow or cold temperatures. I believe the lowest temperature off the coast is no less than 65 degrees.”

Roudan poured more black coffee into his mug, then agreed.

“I bet you’re right, Maaz. Thomasa may be having trouble adjusting to the climate, and that’s probably what has got her so down,” he said.

The men shook their heads in agreement as they watched Savoi collect her food tray and proceed over to their booth.

Shevchenko stayed in a continued state of annoyance with the way everyone often fawned over Savoi. She erratically mashed her eggs onto her plate, but no one noticed she was bothered.

“Thomasa spent most of the night in the laboratory. Apparently, Lt. Co. Adame has deemed her fit to work with the 3rd year cadets on some special projects,” she said.

The men looked in astonishment at Shevchenko’s confession. It was unheard of for a 2nd year cadet to advance to any dealings with their seniors. Though Savoi had received no formal education, she possessed superior knowledge and skills as a chemist. This set her apart from the rest of the Alpha squad. Her brilliance was one of many thorns in Shevchenko’s flesh, aside from Yoshida’s obvious infatuation. Savoi seemed none the wiser, no less.

The men perked up when Savoi finally came to sit with them. Yoshida stood to allow her a spot between himself and Roudan, but she pivoted and squeezed herself next to Shevchenko instead. Farouk’s tiny body was mushed up against the wall at Shevchenko’s silent protest. Yoshida disappointedly kept his thoughts to himself as he sat down. An invisible blanket of tension descended on them.

Farouk broke the air when he sifted through his backpack to pull out a bronze binder. The rest of the table rolled their eyes and sighed in contempt. He continued.

“I know no one wants to discuss this, but we really need to focus on the upcoming land navigation exam. I surmise the best way to study is to select the team member with the most accurate notes to take lead,” he said and feverously tore several pages of notes. “Through process of elimination; we’ve determined that Emmett’s handwriting is worse than chicken scratch.”

Roudan stood with a bow as Yoshida cackled and clapped. 

Farouk gruffly cleared his throat and continued.

“We can clearly see precisely when Haru fell asleep.” He held up a page and pointed to all the zigzagged lines.

Yoshida snatched the page from him and crumbled it up. He tossed the crumbled paper at Roudan, who cackled louder than him.

Farouk huffed at his teammate’s insolence, which made Savoi sigh impatiently. Roudan and Yoshida stopped laughing just enough for Farouk to continue. 

“Lily has the best handwriting, and it would be easiest to allow her to take point in this study session,” he said.

Shevchenko smirked indignantly behind her coffee mug. Her victory was short-lived when Farouk continued to speak.

“Both Thomasa and I have the most detailed notes,” he finished, and waited for the debate to ensue.

Yoshida mused over the information briefly, then said,

“This is a no-brainer. I propose Thomasa take point on this study session.”

Roudan nodded in agreement, but timidly looked at Shevchenko, who was obviously annoyed.

“Why should Thomasa take lead?” Shevchenko scoffed. “Clearly, this is an opportunity for someone else to shine in this squad. I propose Maaz should be the point, especially since his own father was an Apache pilot. Navigation is in the boy’s blood.”

Farouk squirmed in his seat with such pressure being dropped in his lap. He agonized over whether he would be the best team member to lead the study sessions, knowing full well that Savoi was better suited to take command. Roudan and Yoshida murmured to each other, as they completely ignored Shevchenko. 

Suddenly, a 3rd year cadet named Molvik entered the chow hall. His olive skin was a stark contrast to his almost clear-blue eyes. He carefully surveyed the room until he found Savoi. Their eyes met with a knowing understanding. With a smile, he departed. Savoi shrugged her shoulders and said,

“Lily is right. Maaz is perfect to take point for the study sessions.” She hurriedly gathered her belongings and uneaten food. “However, go ahead without me. Duty calls. Best of luck to you all!”

Fortunately for the Alpha squad, Farouk turned out to be a good fit to lead the study sessions. The group received the highest marks, which ranged from 92% to 97% between them. Savoi could attend none of the six study sessions, and her team worried how she would fare. Notably, Savoi earned the highest mark of 100%. 

~The Waring Robins~