24 Hell Week, Pt Sergeants Elyn and Akim roused their cadets once more with fervor.
This time, no-one grumbled or dragged their feet. Instead, their eyes were filled with steely determination. All of their hard work and training boiled down to this.
Hell Week had finally arrived, and they were all ready to face it.
They hopped into their flightsuits and obediently followed the sergeants to the mecha bunkers. The cadets didn’t rush things, nor did they take it easy. Instead, they took an even pace, determined to preserve their stamina as best they could.
When they arrived, they stood in formation as the sergeants briefed them on their mission.
“Cadets,” said Sergeant Akim. “You all know why you’re here. We are to participate in Hell Week in order to test our capabilities in a combat situation.”
“You’re gonna be dealing with remote-controlled mecha drones,” continued Sergeant Elyn. “Base commander Riddell and his staff are gonna be operating them, and they’ve vast experience in battle. You’re all facing a far superior enemy, physically and mentally, so don’t let your guard down, not even for a second.”
“No-one is allowed to make a single mistake!” yelled Sergeant Akim.
“Yes, drill sergeants!” the cadets yelled in perfect unison.
“Squad leaders Freya and Zhulong will lead the squadron,” Sergeant Akim continued, “Split your duties as needed. We are to travel west-northwest to the coordinates provided at top speed. We will be joining other squadrons to reinforce a forward position. We Sergeants will follow and support, but have no authority from this point on, asides from emergencies. Clear?”
“Yessir!” the two of them replied.
“Take us out, squad leaders,” said Sergeant Elyn.
Eva and Chengli stepped to the front and looked at the cadets.
“Let’s ride,” said Eva.
“Yes, squad leader!” the cadets sounded out.
They all then hopped into their mecha, powered up, and armed themselves.
Half of the cadets equipped tower shields, spears, and ballistic sidearms. In contrast, the other half equipped themselves with ballistic rifles and shoulder-mounted plasma beamcannons. They needed to make sure they could cover as many engagement ranges as possible while also covering each others’ weaknesses.
It would have been foolish if they only equipped one kind of weapon, considering they didn’t have much to go on regarding their enemies’ capabilities.
They had also filled their ammunition slots with magazines to ensure they had plenty going in.
On top of that, five of the cadets were assigned purely for support tasks. Their only equipped sidearm was designed for field repairs, and they had an armored cargo pack attached to their chassis. Each of their packs were filled with extra rations, ammunition, and medicine.
They were purely non-combat, which suited these cadets just fine.
Eva and Chengli determined that flexibility was best, and could improvise onsite if they needed to. If the situation called for it, they could even swap equipment and resupply in the field.
Once everyone was equipped, Eva and Chengli led their columns side by side as they looked at the horizon, towards their destination.
Dust kicked up behind them as their boost jets drove them to their objective at an ungodly speed. The mechs’ jets kept them hovering a few meters in the air as they surged forward.
The distance was far, and the ride was rough, but the cadets had endured far worse.
This was nothing.
After a couple of hours, they had arrived at their destination – a forward base whose frontline was constantly harassing an enemy encampment. Even as they cruised through the camp gates, they heard the sounds of gunfire and battle not too far to the north.
They veered into one of the three makeshift hangars, where they parked their mecha next to another squadron. The cadets quickly hopped out of their mechs and performed some simple maintenance, which gave them a chance to rest.
Meanwhile, Eva and Chengli headed to the command tent to report in.
There, they found a number of cadets circled around a holo-display of the enemy base as well as the area surrounding it.
Everyone noticed when they came in, and quickly acknowledged them.
As the two scanned the room, it became clear that these cadets were all the squad leaders for their squadrons, and that one of them was their unit leader.
Albeit, he was self-appointed.
“I’m unit leader Grizz,” he said sharply, “this is my command, and my word is law, got it?”
Unit leader Grizz was a rather large man, more muscular than fat, but certainly both. He was blond haired and blue-eyed, and wore a rather scruffy beard. He looked to be in his late 20s or even early 30s.
His face looked hard and worn, but his eyes conveyed a hint of ignorance.
Eva arched her eyebrows at his demanding nature, but nodded. The other squad leaders didn’t look very pleased either, and kept their lips pursed.
“Since my squad got orders before everyone else, that means I’ve got operational seniority. These guys arrived about an hour before you did, and you’re the last one in. Honestly, you two should be thrown out for being so late!”
In anger, he smashed his hand down on a metal stool, which bent and warped from the strength of his strike.
“I’d fail you all right now, but we need everyone here if we’re gonna attack that base!”
One of the squad leaders immediately stepped forward, eyes wary of the stool as well as Grizz’ reach.
“We can’t just attack,” he said. “We don’t know the enemy’s strengths, weaknesses, or even numbers. Plus, we haven’t verified the base’s layout. All we have is an approximation, and that’s not enough to get us mobilized.”
The others murmured in agreement.
“I know that!” snapped Grizz. “Which is why our latecomers are gonna go scout it out.”
“Are you nuts?!” yelled a female squad leader. “I already told you that my squad has been training for recon, right? We should be the ones taking care of that – it’s what we were meant to do. Plus these guys just came in and need to orient themselves!”
Grizz turned to the female squad leader, his veins reddened and bulged, as though he was about to burst. The change was too sudden, but the other squad leaders didn’t seem surprised at all.
“What the hell do you know about commanding men, hm? You’re just another dumb chick, so shut the fuck up! My orders are to neutralize the enemy base, and I’m gonna do exactly that! I say they go, so they go! ”
He turned to Eva and Chengli, and pointed a finger at them.
“You all dare to be late, so you gotta break your backs as punishment! Now get out there and get me some good intel. And you had better have it in my hands by the end of the cycle!”
Eva and Chengli simply nodded and left the tent. They then headed towards their hangar with their heads dark.
“What a jackass,” said Chengli.
Eva nodded in agreement. She had come across so many men like him throughout her life: arrogant, petty, and self-important. They were so numerous that it was easy to classify them as ‘typical.’ These men all believed themselves to be alphas, despite not having done anything of note in their lives.
To top off not having any talent, many of them had very short fuses.
“He’s gotta be a player,” she said.
“Yeah, seems like it. He crushed that stool pretty hard.”
“I believe... If he got smarter, stronger, and tougher just like us, then he probably got more arrogant and hotheaded, too.”
Chengli groaned. 𝒾n𝘯𝒓𝙚а𝑑. 𝓬𝑜𝙢
This was the last thing they needed – an incompetent, arrogant leader whose best defense mechanism was to explode. How were they going to beat Hell Week now? The cadets were really looking forward to it!
He opened his mouth to say something, but Eva talked first.
“I know what you’re going to ask,” she said. “I don’t really know what to do about him. So let’s not worry about winning right now. Let’s just make sure to survive his bullshit.”
Chengli’s mouth closed. She was right. This wasn’t the first time either of them had to deal with this kind of person. They had done so all their lives. All they had to do for now was survive his incompetence.
They both simply sighed into the air.
“Hold on!” a feminine voice came from behind them. They turned around swiftly, and saw that it was the female recon squad leader.
She was young, too young. Maybe in her late teens? She looked lithe and strong, like a gymnast. She had short brown hair, and was a few inches shorter than Eva.
“Sorry ’bout Grizz,” she said.
She strode up to them with an apologetic smile and a hand outstretched. They both felt a good vibe from her, so they greeted her warmly in return and shook her hand.
“I’m Sunflower,” she said with a smile.
Eva and Chengli glanced at each other, and decided that her callsign seemed absolutely perfect based on her demeanor. But what the hell was she doing here? She looked like she should have been planting sunflowers, not leading a squadron of mecha.
They gave her their callsigns as well, and invited her to follow them to the hangar, so she did.
“Grizz is one of those refugees,” said Sunflower, “and is a real loudmouth. But don’t mind him. He means well. Just behaves like an unwashed dog.”
“We had guessed as much,” replied Chengli. “We’re refugees, too. But man, I understand. I really wanted to...”
Chengli made strangling motions with his hands.
Eva nodded in agreement.
Sunflower was taken aback. She wasn’t just surprised that they were refugees. Her only experience with refugees was Grizz, so she assumed they were all like him. She was glad that these two defied that assumption.
“Yeah, we all want to choke him sometimes,” she said. “We don’t really know if he’s as smart he says he is, but... he’s definitely as strong as he boasts. He even thrashed a couple of the other squad leaders who questioned him.”
“Great,” said Eva flatly.
“As much as I hate to say it,” he said, “let’s give him a shot. We can mutiny if his idiocy gets us in real danger.”
And it was true. They could easily mutiny at any time, after all they all technically held the same rank of squad leader. They had every right to challenge one another’s authority!
“I agree,” replied Sunflower. “Even if he is pretty strong, at least there’s two of you to subdue him.”
“We should just save time and mutiny now,” muttered Eva.
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