The Alpha squad dismissed from class shortly after a quick debriefing. Each team member was sent to the infirmary for observation to ensure no neurological or physical damage had occurred during the experiment. As they were released to lunch, Savoi asked everyone to and share their feelings. Her reluctant comrades caused more tension between them. Farouk continued to sulk silently long after his memory sequence ended. Roudan wanted to say something encouraging, but was dismayed when Shevchenko returned to giving him the cold shoulder. Yoshida dared not speak, in fear that his apathetic nature would only agitate Savoi and result in chastisement.
Before they assembled in the chow hall, Savoi took command of the group. She had always felt it was her duty to assess and rally her team’s spirits for the success of their squad.
“Look everyone, I know things got awkward for us just a little while ago. I think it’s important to remember that even though we didn’t start with common goals, we have them now. The pain and trauma from our pasts were conjured to fuel our desire to end the war once and for all,” she said, then turned to Farouk. “Maaz, there is no shame in your story. You loved a girl who did not feel the same energy towards you. She used and hurt you deeply. Since she isn’t here to apologize, please allow me to do it on her behalf. I’m sorry for your troubles,” she said.
Farouk teared up at being acknowledged, finally.
“I loved Taqdeer since we were tots at the ashram. Every part of her smile, gorgeous hair, and smooth olive skin kept me afloat. I thought we were so similar, she was even shy like me. I was blind, and almost killed my beloved Taha because of it,” he said.
Yoshida fixed his lips to speak, but shrugged at Savoi’s cold glare. Then he pat Farouk on the shoulder to show support. Savoi could see that he really wanted to offer his empathy, so she nodded with a warm smile. Yoshida took the gesture as a sign of good faith.
“I would like to apologize to you as well. I’ve given you grief since we arrived from the MEPS station, without warrant,” he said. Savoi’s smile beamed brighter, which gave him a chill. Though he felt he had given Farouk his just due, her eyes told him she wanted him to continue. “I’m sorry about the girls and everything else,” he shrugged.
Shevchenko took offense to the display of affection Yoshida poured over Farouk, which was not provided after her memory sequence. In fact, he barely spoke a word in her direction. She glanced at Roudan to see if he also had bought into the mushy feelings fest. To no surprise, he had.
Roudan gently nudged Farouk on the chin and said, “You spruce up rather nicely, kid.”
Shevchenko did not want to be left out of the bond her squad had formed. “Come on, let’s get some much-needed chow.” She briskly grabbed Farouk’s hand to pull him through the doors. ‘You have an amazing palace. The textbooks give it no justice,” she said.
For the rest of the 1st term, the Alpha squad trained rigorously to function as a unified team. Countless hours were spent in developmental courses which established the principal foundations of their core studies. Both the midterm and exit exams proved to be a daunting for each member. During this period, intel had discovered at least thirteen separate deadly skirmishes within the kingdom. The dueling houses had increased their manpower significantly. This caused great to the Tribunal Council, who then reached out to General Benavides. He assured them that Calvary Academy hosted several promising cadets that would be vital in leading the demise of those insurgents. One afternoon, he summoned Roudan to his office. Roudan was instructed not to notify his team of the meeting.
When Roudan arrived, General Benavides had prepared a chess game for them to play. Roudan sat stiffly in the plush armchair. The room was thick with tension and the stench of Brandy flavored cigars. A little-known fact was that General Benavides fancied circus clowns. The walls were covered top to bottom with portraits of medieval clowns. Roudan found this twisted sense of humor equally unsettling as the permanent scowl the General donned every day.
The men play for several hours with little talk. Benavides was impressed with Roudan’s level of skill. Roudan won nearly as many matches as the General. Eventually, the tension eased into a mutual respect. Benavides won the final round and celebrated with a cigar. Roudan respectfully declined his offer to join him.
Benavides drew long on his cigar, then sighed heavily.
“I suppose we should get down to the business of why I brought you here,” he said.
Roudan tensed up again, realizing the fun time was over. He leaned in inquisitively to listen.
Benavides took in another drag, then puffed his words out like a steam engine.
“The time will soon come when you will have to lead your squad into the fray to defend our kingdom. It is imperative that you are ready. As it stands, everyone is still very fragile. I imagine the lingering effects of the memory sequence experiment have each member licking their wounds. You must toughen them up and draw them out of themselves. The entire kingdom will not survive through many more outbursts of the rebellions fueling this war.”
Roudan left the General’s office shortly after that warning. It both sobered and tormented his spirit.
~The Waring Robins~