3rd Year, P. 8

With all her strength, Shevchenko pulled slack from the polyproylene rope so that Savoi and Farouk could continue to scale up towards the flag. Her vision was blurry from the sprayed liquid and her arms were tired from the added weight Savoi brought on. The liquid also made her leather gloves slippery. She yanked the rope hard enough to release it and quickly snatch the gloves off with her teeth. Once she retrieved the rope again, her arms grew heavier. She wanted to quit, but just as the rope slipped from her grip, a new wave of determination set in.      

Suddenly, a combination of 6 cadets from Bravo, Charlie, and Delta squads surrounded Shevchenko. They were confused why she was holding on to a rope that seemed to lead nowhere. At that point, they had no awareness that the rope was also attached to the line which held Savoi and Farouk inside the vented shaft. She stood silently as the group peered cautiously at her.

“Hey pretty girl, what’s up with the rope?” Cadet Pearcy, from Charlie squad, demanded.

Shevchenko did not respond.

Pearcy did not take well to her silence, so he motioned for his team members to detain her. Savoi and Farouk heard the voices outside, and held their breath to continue their climb quietly. Farouk often lost his footing against the steel wall because his boots were covered in liquid. Savoi scrambled each time to pull him back into place. The closer they got to reaching the flag, the more they worried for Shevchenko’s safety.

Inside the control room, General Benavides green-lit squad leaders and co-leads to be released and join their teams. Each had been observing developments, which gave them an advantage of scouting alternative routes within the warehouse. Several hazardous traps were installed along those routes, which hindered and delayed the leads from rescue efforts. The senior cadets encountered everything from oscillating floors to a five-hundred-pound mechanical swinging gavel.

Roudan and Yoshida agilely sprinted to the area where Shevchenko was surrounded by the other teams. They came in hot and were prepared to use maximum force against their adversaries. There was little time to decide on a precise plan other than to eliminate any opposing force. The 2 men burst through a final metal door to witness Shevchenko in a standoff with 9MM laser pistols aimed at her. Yoshida drew his metallic sonic boomerang blade, which spiraled around the room to disarm their enemies. Meanwhile, Roudan rushed to support Shevchenko’s hold on the rope.

The opposing cadets instinctively knew they had no chance against Yoshida in a hand-to-hand duel. He stood patiently for a moment, but not long enough for anyone to decide who would attack him first. Without warning, Yoshida pounced and kicked the Delta team member in the chest. Then he swung the wounded cadet into Pearcy, which took both out. Yoshida dodged an upper cut from a female Bravo cadet and countered with a roundhouse sweep to her legs. After she recovered from her fall, 2 male Bravo cadets joined the match.

Yoshida interchangeably sparred with them using the shadow boxing techniques Roudan trained the Alpha squad in. He was so enthralled with his opponents that he did not notice the remaining Bravo cadet had re-obtained his weapon.

“NO!” Shevchenko screamed as the Bravo cadet unloaded his weapon.

The Bravo cadet was easily unnerved as he watched Yoshida eliminate his team with brute force, which caused his aim to falter. In fact, his rapid fire of lasers could only sever the rope. Yoshida lunged in the air to grip the rope before it snapped in half, but to no avail.

“What have you done, you fool?” Yoshida belted, before taking the pistol and knocking the Bravo cadet unconscious with the weapon.

Shevchenko, Roudan, and Yoshida scrambled to the vent door to see if Savoi and Farouk had fallen because the rope broke. When they looked down the shaft, they could see nothing. Once they spanned upward, they saw Savoi. Her back was pinned against the wall where Farouk once was. There was barely enough room for him to ease himself up and position himself on her back. Her legs were the only thing holding them both up.

“Hang on, Thomasa! We’re here to help,” Shevchenko cried.

Fortunately, they were only a mere few inches away from the flag. Farouk braced himself to stand and snatch the fan. Roudan knew Savoi’s legs would not hold them for long. He instructed Yoshida and Shevchenko to scale down the shaft quickly. In no time, the trio reached the bottom of the shaft. They found some sandbags and hay to pile together. Not knowing how her team would assist at the bottom of the shaft, Savoi’s legs gave out. She held on to Farouk as they plummeted down.

~The Waring Robins~

3rd Year, Part 7

Roudan slumped in the black leather swivel chair and rubbed his temples with both hands.

“Did that really just happen?”

“Hell yeah, it did,” Yoshida cackled. “That can’t be unseen or unheard, ever.”

Roudan smirked.

“It was kinda of hot though, right?”

Yoshida nodded in agreement, then turned his attention to the monitors’ screens. He moved the coordinates of the camera angles to zoom in on the corridor that Savoi led the team down. It was sectioned off by large steel walls, so they could not see members from the Bravo, Charlie, and Delta squads also in the area. Each group traveled through the maze until they came upon a door that merged them all into the same room. The room was roughly 4000 square feet, with only one entrance and exit on the other side.

Without warning, an unknown liquid sprayed rapidly from sprinklers on the ceiling. The cadets were drenched with a sticky solution. Mist from the spray was so thick no one could see in anything even directly in front of them. Although everyone was in full battle gear, the liquid ricocheted off their Kevlar helmets and seared some of their faces. It felt as if hell-fire rained upon them. Blood-curdling screams echoed through the room and bounced off the walls. Panic ensued, as everyone struggled to pull their protective headgear from their rucksacks.

Savoi was the first to don her MOPP suit correctly. She frantically scanned the room in search of where the control board for the sprinklers would be. The academy issued infrared goggles, which had thermal imaging technology. Through the steam and fog, on the opposite side of the room, she could see a metal box with a circuit breaker inside. She aimed a laser pistol in that direction, as she was clear across the room near the entrance.

A cluster of terrified cadets pummeled into her, which caused her to miss the target. By then, Shevchenko and Farouk were in full gear, prepared to block interferences. Savoi shut her eyes and counted to ten. She calmed her breathing, opened her eyes, braced herself, and took another shot. This time, she blasted the metal box open. The sprinklers system was disabled. Instantly, the room erupted with cheers.

Yoshida and Roudan were in awe of Savoi’s calm demeanor during so much chaos.

“I can’t believe she made the shot!” Roudan shouted.

“The epitome of grace under fire,” Yoshida beamed energetically.

Moments later, the lights in the room flickered out. Another wave of pandemonium arose in the darkness. Savoi seized both her teammates by the arms and slung them forward. They mad dashed towards the exit with their flashlights. The remaining cadets brawled amongst each other without noticing the Alpha squad had escaped. Shevchenko took a large rubbish bin and blocked the door path behind them.

The trio sprinted towards a door which led to a tiny room. The room was barely large enough to fit the three of them inside.

“This must be one of the main control panels,” Farouk said, as he shined his flashlight across the circuit board.

After a few fumbles, he turned on the building lights. When they came out of the room, they noticed a metal pulley hanging from the ceiling. Two ropes were attached to the pulley, but appeared to lead nowhere. Behind the pulley was a vented shaft door mounted on the wall. When they carefully opened the door, there was another rope hanging inside. Farouk scanned his flashlight to see a red flag hanging 100 meters upward.

“I see our flag, but how do we get to it?” he asked.

Savoi looked at the pulley and ropes just outside the shaft door, then back at Farouk.

“One of us is going to have to tie themselves to the rope inside the shaft, while two of us pull him up to it,” she replied.

The trio gawked at each other until they heard voices coming from down the hall.

Shevchenko broke their silence.

“There isn’t much time, and this is a no-brainer. I nominate Maaz,” she blurted.

“What? Why me?” he gasped.

Shevchenko patted his shoulder.

“You’re the lightest weight among the three of us,” she said, then winked at Savoi. “No offense, Thomasa.”

“None taken,” Savoi sighed.

Farouk wanted to protest, but did not want to take time away from the team’s effort to capture the first flag. He perched himself on the ledge of the shaft doorway and allowed the girls to harness the rope around his waist. Then he waited for them to grip one rope attached to the pulley before he plunged down the shaft. The walls were made of steel, which made it difficult to climb. Since Farouk’s MOPP suit had not absorbed the wetness from the sticky liquid sprayed earlier, he could not plant his feet and slipped off the walls.

“I can’t stop slipping,” he cried. “Perhaps a little coaching or a pep talk might help!”

“Move your ass, Maaz!” Shevchenko shouted.

“What kind of pep talk is that?” he asked, as he was slightly frustrated and hurt at the same time.

Savoi released her portion of the rope, which caused Shevchenko to lose a bit of her grip.

Both Shevchenko and Farouk screeched.

“What the hell, Thomasa?”

Savoi took a step backward to rummage through her rucksack.

“It was a lube,” she whispered, as she rubbed the stickiness of her sleeve.

Shevchenko and Farouk looked at each other in panic.

Savoi continued to talk in a low whisper to herself.

“This viscous solution is a combination of parabens, petroleum, and phenomia acid.” She looked up at her confused team mates and spoke in a normal voice. “They sprayed us with that solution so that we couldn’t easily climb up the shaft to retrieve the flag.”

Savoi grabbed her end of the rope and signaled for Shevchenko to pull Farouk back up. She took a bar of charcoal out of her rucksack and rubbed it all over and Farouk. His eyes revealed a certain level of concern, so she calmly explained what she was doing.

“This charcoal has a chemical agent that can decrease the effects of the lubricant.” She looked at Shevchenko, was crossed for not receiving the same treatment for the lube. “I only have enough for the two of us. Maaz is light enough to pull up, but he will need more support from me.”

Shevchenko helped adjust the rope harnessed around Farouk so that Savoi was also squeezed inside. The pair lunged backwards inside the shaft, then braced their backs against each other and scaled the walls in unison.

~The Waring Robins~

3rd Year, P. 6

Seven hours after the squads broke down their assigned Conex boxes, they made camp to rest. Before daylight, everyone was back on another road march to designated areas for each group. Alpha squad found a handwritten map which would lead them to an abandoned warehouse. The scribbles made the map difficult to read. Frustrations heightened everyone’s temperament, but they could still make good time compared to the other squads who had gotten lost on the way.

Once inside the building, the team was given earbuds for communication and tracking. Yoshida and Roudan were sent to a control room where they could monitor Shevchenko, Savoi, and Farouk navigate through a series of time-sensitive challenges. A loud buzzer went off, indicating the portion of the exam had begun. The trio bolted down a long corridor to an opened black door. On the other side of the room was another black door. Farouk checked the door and found it was locked. In the center of the room was a wicker basket filled with a dozen multi-colored numbered velvet pouches was placed on a cylinder stand.

Savoi was the first to peer over the basket.

“There are several colors to choose from,” she said as she gently sifted through the pouches. “Yellow, black, brown, red, and blue. Which one do you want to go with?”

Farouk panted out loud, “Ooh, I know; let me pick!”

Savoi looked at Shevchenko, who seemed less assured of an answer.

“Okay, Maaz, which one?” she asked.

Without hesitation, he blurted, “GREEN!”

Incredulously, Shevchenko popped Farouk on the back of the neck.

“Why did you even bother with him?” she asked

“I really thought he knew,” Savoi sighed.

The trio stood silent, waiting for each other to come up with a solution.

Savoi broke the tension when her eyes beamed brightly.

Shevchenko tapped her on the shoulder.

“You’ve got something, don’t you?”

Savoi stalled, as she was apprehensive about making another wrong assertion.

Farouk panicked at the sound of the buzzer ticking away.

“Thomasa, say something! Don’t leave us in suspense!” he demanded.

Savoi took in a deep breath, then said, “Let’s think of this more strategically. During the entrance exam, we captured a red flag and became the Alpha squad from that victory.”

Shevchenko squinted her eyes and her mind went blank.

“Yeah, so? I’m not following.”

Savoi searched again through the pouches.

“We were the first to capture our flag. Maybe we should look for a red pouch with the #1 stitched on it.”

Farouk dove his hand inside the basket until he plucked out the pouch she described.

“Found it!” he cried.

Inside the pouch was a medium-sized metal key. They ran across the room to the locked door. Farouk took the key, then clumsily banged it up against the hole.

“The opening is too small. I can’t get it in,” he said.

“Well, you can’t just keep pounding it like that. There’s no way it will jam itself in,” Shevchenko scoffed.

Savoi curiously tilted her head to the side, then guided his wrist so that the key was flipped upside down.

“Maybe turn it at a different angle?” she guessed.

Shevchenko huffed.

“You two obviously know nothing about these kinds of things.”

Savoi shrugged with the last of her patience, and replied, “Please enlighten us with your knowledge, oh wise one.”

Shevchenko grinned.

“Clearly, a bit of lubrication is needed. Since we don’t have any, and time is of the essence, someone has to spit on it.”

Savoi shook her head in defiance.

“I’m not doing that!”

Farouk, still puzzled, spat lightly on the tip of the key.

Shevchenko flailed her arms.

“No, no! Not like that! You have to wet it until it slides in with ease.” She spat a large wad of saliva on the key and rubbed along the base and inside the entrance of the keyhole with her index finger.

Suddenly, the key glided into the hole perfectly.

“Wow! I never would’ve had known how to make it work. Lily, where did you learn such a neat trick?” Farouk asked.

Suddenly, Shevchenko became flushed and self-conscious about what she shared with her team.

“Why would you ask me something like that?” she stuttered.

Farouk was puzzled by her change in demeanor. He pressed his lips together, searching for a response. Savoi was ready to move forward from there.

She waved a hand in their air and said, “An uncreative mind finds every wrong answer, but a creative mind will find fault with the questions. Lily, you solved this riddle perfectly fine. Now, we should focus on why a lubricant agent was so important to the task. I think it’s a clue for something else.”

As she led the team through the unlocked door, Shevchenko whispered to Farouk.

“Let’s just say I have my ways.”

Yoshida and Roudan stared at each other, completely mortified and dumbfounded by the absurdity of the situation.

~The Waring Robins~

3rd Year, P. 5

The excursion part of the exit exam was delayed by several hours because of some last-minute changes. Each squad spent the night in the great hall of battalion headquarters. Both laughter and a few minor squabbles filled the room until everyone fell into a silent sleep. At approximately 0200 hours, the squad leaders were awakened and commanded to gear up their squads for departure. Once roll call and weapons checks were complete, the excursion begun. Calvary academy’s 3rd year unit exit exam was fully underway.

A thick fog covered the night sky, and a chill filled the air. Though they were dressed in the mandatory winter battle dress uniform (heavy cotton and polyester material, with chameleon-styled camouflage), the bitter cold seeped through their gloves. Many cadets griped it made holding their laser beam M16 rifles nearly unbearable. For the first 12K miles, the squad leaders took turns calling cadence. Their complaints were met with a harsh rebuke from Master Sergeant Abdullah, who was at least 6 foot 7 and dubbed “the surly giant”.

Roudan’s voice was clear, full of resolve and determination. He knew his team was bent to come out on top by the end of the exam. This would be Alpha squad’s shining moment since the entrance exam. So many slipups had left blemishes on their records and personal lives between then and now. Unfortunately, the road to redemption also paved the way for their demise. He figured they should go out in glory, rather than weasel away with their tails tucked. Squads Bravo through Delta were in for a rude awakening if they believed anyone could best the Alpha squad.

Hours of marching led the unit through a desert, inside a woodland labyrinth, and eventually to a swamp marsh. A recent monsoon caused the water to rise waist-level to the average sized cadet. Slowly, the cadets drudged through the swamp with their weapons overhead. All was going well until Shevchenko became dizzy and nauseous. She retched, then vomited twice before she was asked if she needed to be sent back to the rear detachment for medical treatment. Her team was concerned for her wellbeing, but she played it off by recalling how heavily she drank Roudan’s hooch.

Savoi pulled a tiny vial from her rucksack and offered it for Shevchenko to drink. The women quarreled briefly over the necessity of such a measure. Savoi assured her that there were more than enough medicines in her bag to last the duration of the exam. Shevchenko reluctantly took a small sip, then saw the eagerness in everyone’s eyes. Not wanting to be the weakest link, she downed the rest in a flash. To her satisfaction, the neon blue potion quickly eased all her ailing symptoms. Feeling rejuvenated, Shevchenko to the lead in calling cadence for the rest of their trek.

Once the unit cleared the marsh, they camped for 3 days and two nights to recover. Long before sunrise, another 12K road march ensued. Two female cadets, (Kaleigh from Bravo and Zepeda from Charlie) were treated for dehydration. Cadet Samuels, who had ranked from the Echo squad into Delta, was so exhausted and lethargic from the march that the Chaplin carried his weapon most of the way. His feet were bruised by cysts and he was deemed unfit to continue the exam.

After which, the unit marched upon a tarmac where four Ch-47F Chinook helicopters waited for them to board. Conex boxes containing more equipment were loaded before takeoff. At one point, the pilots spooked the cadets by opening the hydraulic ramp in the back. The sight of height in the air caused a stir among some cadets. Fortunately, no one in the Alpha squad was deterred. Farouk became excited, knowing he could soon fly the helicopter. Shevchenko was relieved to feel well enough to appreciate the moment with him.

Fifteen hours of air travel brought them to a meager landing strip. Choppy winds caused high turbulence as the helicopters landed. The cadets were instructed to remove the Conex boxes and carry them to a designated location. Master Sergeant Abdullah warned everyone to “stay low,” while running from the helicopters. The wind from the propellers alone where enough to blow wind at 200 MPH.

Cadet Drafus, of the Charlie squad, did not take heed of the Master Sergeant’s words. He quickly tired from running in a hunched position while carrying one side of a Conex box. He stood straight and was instantly propelled forward. His hand snatched away from the box as he was forced to run faster. Then Drafus tripped, which sent him tumbling down the strip. After a series of tucked rolls, he came to a stop. The on-site medic declared Drafus suffered a concussion and fractured right tibia from the incident, and was sent back to the rear detachment.

~The Waring Robins~

3rd Year, P. 4

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.

Roudan grimaced.

“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.”

Yoshida scoffed.

“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~

Free, Indeed

Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed, I think of a deer trapped in the thicket of a forest. She isn’t wounded or injured, but one hind leg is stuck. How will she ever break free? Will someone come to save her? No. She shall do it on her own accord. But, how? She will imagine herself free.

If you believe; you shall set yourself free, indeed.

3rd Year, P. 3

The following day, before breakfast, Alpha squad was set to continue weapons training. Farouk hurriedly scurried past several groups of cadets as he made his way through the courtyard. After arriving at the female barracks, he shuffled inside while a female cadet exited the front entrance. He paced up and down the hall as his mind raced. Shevchenko and Savoi were startled to see him.

“Good morning, ladies. I hope you’re well rested and ready for the exciting day ahead of us,” he belted in an uneven, high-pitched tone. 

Farouk’s unusually cheerful voice caused a bit of concern to them. Shevchenko glared at him briefly, then walked by with an unsuccessful attempt to stifle a deep yawn. Her disheveled uniform and messy bun revealed her nighttime activities with Roudan. Savoi greeted Farouk with a nod instead of a pat on the head and followed Shevchenko out of the entryway.

Farouk darted out of the building to catch up to them and called out,

“We should all eat the same items for breakfast today. It will help us be in sync.” Savoi shook her head in disagreement, so he declared, “It’s true. I heard it’s a real thing!”

“I assure you, that is NOT a real thing,” Shevchenko dryly replied.

 Farouk stepped in front of them.

“Lily, Thomasa; you both are women, right?” he asked.

Shevchenko and Savoi glared at him, then at each other, puzzled by his question. Farouk seemed lost in thought, as if to plan a fitting follow-up question. Shevchenko smirked and suddenly massaged her breast. She took things further by doing the same to Savoi.

“Last time I checked, we are still women, Maaz,” she jested.

Farouk nodded his head.

“I may have done something pretty terrible involving a woman,” he said.

Shevchenko stopped feeling Savoi up and rolled her eyes.

“I hope you didn’t pull anymore stupid stunts like at the grenade range.”

Savoi chuckled at her statement, as she continued.

“Speaking of pull; why would anyone freeze after pulling the pin from a radioactive grenade?”

“Perhaps it was delayed remorse for the inevitable consequences,” Savoi chimed in.

“Ooh, good one!” Shevchenko laughed.

 “Okay, but can we all just appreciate the fact that nobody died?” Farouk huffed.  

Shevchenko scoffed.

“Famous last words.”

 Savoi gave her a high-five with a wink.

“Lily, I must say; you’ve been on fire with your comebacks lately. I’m truly impressed. Emmett is doing an amazing job of smoothing out your rough edges.”

Shevchenko blushed at first, but let out a girlish giggle before nodding in agreement.

Farouk became frustrated with their jesting and redirect the conversation.

“Do you know cadet Abarra?” he blurted.

Shevchenko paused, then answered.

“Yes, I know Luz. She’s a 2nd year from the Bravo squad. She’s also an assistant instructor in the linguistics program.”

Savoi perked up once she realized who they were referring to.

“Oh yeah, the cute brunette with the big knockers and even bigger chip on her shoulder?”

Shevchenko confirmed by flexing her hands in front of her chest, emulating cadet Abarra’s bust size.

Savoi snickered, then asked, “What about her?”

 “I wrote an essay and submitted it to her,” Farouk replied.

Shevchenko and Savoi noticed how his demeanor became sullen. They looked at each other, then simultaneously asked, “Was it an academic essay or a love confession?”

Farouk blushed.

“A bit of both,” he coyly replied, with his head down and eyes to the ground.

Savoi nudged him.

“Well, what did she say?”

“Yes, tell us what happened next,” Shevchenko chimed in.

Farouk mustered the courage to continue.

“Things didn’t go the way I expected. Nothing ever does, so I shouldn’t be surprised.” He looked up to see the women eagerly awaiting his next statement, so he continued. “Our conversation went in an entirely different direction. Instead of feeling flattered, she ignored my confession completely.”

Savoi scoffed.

“That can’t be possible. How do you know for sure that she ignored you?”

Farouk let out a deep sigh, and answered.

“I know for sure because when she returned my essay, it was covered in red ink from where she corrected my grammar and misunderstanding of certain words. We spent the entire conversation discussing the history of a crossbow.”

Shevchenko resisted the urge to burst out in laughter.

Savoi smiled and pressed with a sincere interest.

“Crossbow you say? What does that have to do with anything?”

Farouk continued.

“I mentioned Cupid, since love is synonymous with that name.”

Savoi paused for a moment, deep in thought, until Shevchenko interrupted.

“Oh, I see! You must have confused a crossbow with a regular bow and arrow.”

Farouk uttered something, then refrained.

Savoi gently pat him on the shoulder and said, “Don’t take it too hard, Maaz. Look at it this way; strength and courage are derived from love. You demonstrated both with your confession. If the receiver is deaf, they weren’t meant to be with you.”

Shevchenko had thoroughly been amused by Farouk’s tale of unrequited love, especially since this time it was less disastrous than before he enrolled in the academy. However, she was pained by Savoi’s words. Regarding Yoshida, his awareness was keen, though she had taken no bold efforts to confess her feelings for him.

Savoi continued.

“In this instance, you pulled the string of your bow and released the arrow. It might not have landed on or even near your intended target, but it’s alright. Just remember what to do next time. Whether you choose to aim higher or lower, be sure the target is worth your effort, so there’ll be no regrets.”

Farouk beamed a smile of relief as he fully understood Savoi’s advice. He wondered if she meant any of those words for herself or Yoshida, but thought better than to ask her about it. Shevchenko signaled they should continue to head down to the chow hall. As they departed, she asked,

“So, are you going to say anything else to Abarra?”

Farouk looked at Savoi and gained a new sense of confidence.

“Nope. I refuse to give her the satisfaction of knowing she got under my skin,” he replied.

Shevchenko shrugged her shoulders and said,

“She might not care either way.”

Farouk sighed as if to release all the anxiety he felt on the matter.

“You’re right, Lily, she might not care either way.” He looked at his watch and realized they were behind schedule, and picked up the pace. “I don’t care anymore, either. It’s like Thomasa said; love confessions to the blind are pointless.”

“I said nothing of the sort,” Savoi cackled.

The trio quick-stepped into a full run to meet Roudan and Yoshida at the chow hall.

~The Waring Robins~

3rd Year, P. 2

The next morning, routine squad-level PT was replaced with a battalion run to celebrate and kick off the start of the third-year cadets heading towards graduation. Alpha squad was finally complete with the return of Savoi. There was no time to talk, as General Benavides gave a riveting speech to rally his troops with excitement. The mood and morale were a mixture of eagerness, anxiety, and a few drowsy cadets. The battalion ran six miles, with the Alpha squad at the helm. This time Savoi did not fall back. Instead, she held her own and even called cadence at the insistence of Lt. Co. Adame.

Everything from her appearance to her demeanor had changed. She transitioned her braids into dreadlocks and shaved her sides into a fade. Every cadet donned new gold and black PT uniforms, which distinguished them as third-year cadets. Savoi’s body was far more svelte than before, though the thickness of her muscular thighs and backside were further defined. Savoi’s strong, emboldened voice belted loudly, laced with the richness of her island accent. It was as if she cast an enchantment spell over them in her native tongue. The Alpha squad could not help but to feel reinvigorated by the spirited command of such a fierce presence.

It was apparent Savoi had not spent the duration of her laboratory confinement cuffed to a worktable extracting chemical compounds. Whatever took place was a trigger which eliminated the whimsical, child-like version of herself. She embodied a true soldier prepared for the battlefield. Each of her squad mates was flabbergasted and in awe of her transformation. For Shevchenko, it was a slap in the face compared to the girl who danced nearly naked in their barracks room just hours before.

After the battalion run, Roudan had his team take part in weapons training. He enlisted Yoshida to take point, as this was his specialty. They met inside the armory and waited for further instructions. This was Savoi’s first time inside the armory. Her eyes grew wide as saucers at the exotic weapons on display. She took a specific interest in a giant crossbow. It was heavier than she expected. Yoshida braced her into place as she stumbled backwards. A brief but intense gaze held them together. For the moment, Yoshida swam in her allure. Savoi broke the tension with a beautiful grin that expose the creases of her dimples.

Shevchenko watched them from the other side of the room, heated with envy. Farouk interrupted her train of thought with a gentle nudge, and she felt the coldness of Roudan’s wounded glare behind her. For Roudan’s part, he had a comfortable understanding that he could only quell a small portion of the flames of passion which Shevchenko held for Yoshida. After all, the heart wants whoever it wants. Savoi’s reentrance into their squad made it clear to him that both he and Shevchenko played second fiddle to the undeniable intimate connection Yoshida shared with her.

Roudan snapped out of his lovesick mourning and called the squad to attention. He graciously relinquished authority to Yoshida so they could conduct their weapons training in a timely manner. The Alpha squad geared up with protective armored suits. They headed to the lower interior of the armory where there was an M16 rifle and 9MM hand gun range. Yoshida patiently instructed his team on how to hold, secure, and clean each weapon.

“The best way to become a sharp-shooter is to be fed bullets,” he said.

Farouk was struck with confusion.

“You mean we have to eat the rounds?” he asked.

Yoshida chuckled in delight.

“No. I mean, you must shoot your weapon as many times as possible to get better,” he replied.

The pop-up targets surrounded them, and the squad fired their weapons until each clip was empty.

After target practice was completed, they shifted to a training station behind the armory.

The grenade range provided simulations of a full-on, warlike scenario on the battlefield. Just as he did during the entrance exam, Farouk froze in place and became disoriented by the surrounding commotion. The radioactive grenades had a detonation timer set for thirty seconds after the pin was pulled. Farouk was the only member to hesitate when commanded to throw the grenade. At that point, Yoshida swiftly tackled him to retrieve the grenade and throw it as far as he could.

Yoshida stopped the simulation and ripped into Farouk with all of hell’s fury. Savoi did not intervene. She stood afar in stoic silence. The deadness in her eyes was noticed by all. Farouk shook off Yoshida’s harsh rebuke and licked his lips with determination not to foul up again. Shortly after, Roudan declared it was best to take a break. The team went back inside the armory to eat the MRE meal packages sent from the chow hall.

Savoi ate very little and did not mingle with her squad. She took it upon herself to continue studying the different weapons on display. Yoshida quietly followed behind her. He pondered her unreadable disposition. Roudan made a point of telling everyone to refrain from any desires to probe the exact nature of Savoi’s punishment. There had been brief moments throughout the day when they could see flickers of the old jovial Savoi. He missed that part of her. It was almost as if everything that occurred during their second year knocked the wind out of Savoi.

“Déjà vu,” he thought to himself, referring to the memory sequence of the happy little girl whose world was turn upside down.

Savoi caught his attention when she picked up a folding knife. She struggled with the trigger to release the blade, so he took it from her.

As he released the blade, he said,

“This is a very special tool.” He folded the blade and clasped his right hand over the weapon. “These types of knives serve as a surprise to your opponent, never to flash right away.” Yoshida walked behind Savoi and slid his left arm around her waist. Before she could protest, he swiftly extracted the knife with his right hand and held it to her throat.

Savoi countered his move by slipping her hand inside the small opened space of his right forearm. She gripped his wrist and forcefully pulled the knife away from her throat. Then glided her left hand over his and dug her nails deep to draw blood. This maneuver took Yoshida off guard, so he did not notice when she moved her right leg back and in between his stance. Finally, Savoi bowed, pushed her body into his, and swiftly body slammed him over her shoulder.

Yoshida was beyond stunned and embarrassed. Not because he had been bested by Savoi, but because his actions might have triggered her into such a strong response.

Shevchenko stood with her mouth wide open, while Roudan and Farouk clapped in awe of her technique.

“Great going, Thomasa,” Farouk yelled after a cheerful whistle. “I bet you learned that move after your ordeal with Molvik,” he continued.

Savoi gasped at his remark. She knew everyone walked on eggshells around the subject, yet she was not ready to expound on everything that had transpired. Roudan jabbed Farouk harshly and Yoshida’s eyes rebuked him, which only made her feel more uncomfortable. Farouk winced in disgrace from yet another foul. Shevchenko rolled her eyes at her male counterparts. For the past several weeks, she had the luxury of not watching them fawn over Savoi.

“Who would imagine that between Emmett and Haru, it would be Thomasa to end up on the firing line with the Tribunal Council?” Shevchenko interjected, and did so with a loud cackle that required no permission or participation.

“Lily, that was unnecessary!” Roudan barked.

Savoi took no offense to Shevchenko’s dig. In fact, she laughed hysterically at the truthfulness of her statement.

Savoi cut off her laughter in an instant.

“Lily has a good point. I suppose the damning thing about me is I will never stand by idly and watch my teammates be torn down,” she said with the intensity and her island accent.

Roudan and Yoshida froze, as they knew Savoi was referring to both incidents where she put herself on the line to spare them from being expelled from the academy. Neither of them had returned the favor, and it ate away at them. This made Yoshida suddenly feel off kilter, which made him unsure of how to proceed.

~The Waring Robins~

3rd Year, P. 1

The final days of the Alpha squad’s second year were spent with much preparation for the exit exams. Regarding the Molvik VS Savoi incident, a decree from the Tribunal Council established Molvik would be expelled from the academy and return to his home state with no honors or the ability to enlist in any military services. Meanwhile, Savoi was sentenced to ninety days of extra duty in the laboratory under the supervision of Lt. Co. Adame. Calvary academy’s cadre was meticulous to ensure that each cadet was well prepared to carry out their duties in the field. The upcoming class would graduate in fifteen months’ time, and orders for their first deployment were drafted.

By the end of the ninety-day period, Savoi had completed the terms of her punishment in time to start the beginning of the third year with her fellow squad mates. Shevchenko entered the barracks at approximately 1900 hours, where she found Savoi dancing with headphones on and a flask in her hand in the dark. Shevchenko did not turn on the lights immediately, but did so to ensure that it was, in fact, Savoi in the living quarters. She removed Savoi’s headphones and said,

“Why the hell were you in here partying in the dark?”

Savoi smirked and replied, “What’s wrong with that?”

Shevchenko was often ruffled by Savoi’s lackadaisical attitude, which became more prominent over the course of their second year.

 “Because I could’ve crashed into something,” she snapped.

Savoi flippantly snatched her headphones away, and just before she put her them on said,

“Too late for that; you’ve already crashed my party.”

With that, Savoi turned off the lights once again and continued to dance as if no one else were in the room. Shevchenko huffed and left the barracks before Savoi could annoy her any further. She hadn’t seen her roommate in nearly three months, and all that had remained the same was the unspoken animosity between them. Much of their first year was spent with futile attempts by Savoi to befriend her. Shevchenko did not particularly dislike the girl. In fact, her source of great disdain only derived from Yoshida’s obvious affection for Savoi.

Shevchenko walked to the armory, where she found Yoshida, Roudan, and Farouk rolling around on the floor. Apparently, they had used high-voltage laser guns on each other. Yoshida and Roudan laughed the pain away, while Farouk laid balled up in the fetal position. His brief whimpers evolved into a maniacal laughter. The other men followed suit and laughed in hysteria. Shevchenko was not amused by their foolery. She gruffly cleared her throat (as much as a young female aristocrat could do so), which caused the men to sit up at attention.

Yoshida looked over at Farouk, whose eyes were filled with tears, though he had a devious smirk. This cause Yoshida to let out a muffled giggle, then Roudan joined in. The men could not contain their laughter for much longer. With each attempt to stifle a laugh, one of them would ruin their progress all over again.

Shevchenko stomped her foot to regain control of the room.

“My word! I can’t believe this is truly the alpha squad and the hope of our kingdom.” She glared at Farouk, who nearly successfully regained composure. “Maaz, have you been eating truffles again? You know that little stunt almost got you busted with the cadre.”

Farouk sat up straighter and apologetically glanced back at her.

“We were just testing those lasers out. Not to worry, as we kept them on the lowest voltage possible,” he answered.

 Yoshida was aggravated by Shevchenko’s chastisement, so he chimed in.

“Everyone bow your heads and let us have a moment of silence, for all the poor dead horses cadet Shevchenko has beaten to death.”

Shevchenko was taken aback by Yoshida’s dig. It was true that she continued to give Farouk a hard time about eating a laced truffle, but that was only to deter him from being so careless. She, herself, made good use of the truffle that she had eaten. It was the very thing that helped her and Roudan to cross the blurred lines.

Roudan saw the climate in the room was about to become tense, so he interjected.

“Lily, I assure you, none of us have partaken in any forms of drug paraphernalia. We were just goofing around to blow off some steam. Besides, Thomasa isn’t around to provide such goods,” he said, as he helped Yoshida and Farouk up to their feet.

Suddenly, Shevchenko remembered Savoi was back at the barracks.

“Yeah, about that; I have news,” she sighed. The eager look in her teammate’s eyes, particularly Yoshida’s, made her queasy. “Thomasa is no longer serving extra duty,” she said reluctantly.

Yoshida launched a series of rapid-fire questions.

“She’s not? Where the hell is she? Why didn’t you bring her with you?”

Shevchenko’s heart sank at his eagerness to learn about Savoi. In all the time Savoi had been kept away, Yoshida only sulked for a short spell before he snapped out of it. There were rumors he attempted to see Savoi at the lab, but she promptly turned him away. Shevchenko used their separation to become closer to Yoshida, though she had been sleeping with Roudan all the while. Yoshida slightly softened his indifferent disposition towards Shevchenko, but the news of Savoi’s release from extra duty put him back into his old stance.

Farouk finally sobered up from his laughing fit and demanded to know Savoi’s whereabouts.

Shevchenko stood in the middle of the three men, feeling as if she were being interrogated. She did not respond until they stopped talking. She could feel Yoshida’s piercing glare on the back of her neck, which gave her goosebumps. Farouk’s eyes were no better, so she fixed her gaze on Roudan. Though he proclaimed to be Savoi’s older brother, he also understood Shevchenko’s issues with her. He constantly had to reassure Shevchenko that his affection for Savoi in no way hindered his desire for her.

Shevchenko pursed her lips together, then said,

“Thomasa is at home in our barracks room. I imagine she will rejoin us tomorrow morning at PT, so save all your questions for her, then.”

Without another word, she excused herself from the armory. Roudan took off after her, while Yoshida and Farouk stared at each other until another fit of laughter descended upon them.

~The Waring Robins~