2: Green Smoke (2/3)

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Antes and the other cadets took a knee to examine the bunker's entrance hatch and the keypad next to it. Looking up the Bunker rose three flights of stairs, somewhere at the top was the flag and the team's objective. Before they could begin the final stage, they'd have to crack the code to get them into the bunker.

Indelli looked to Dara.

"D, looks like you're up."

Dara didn't wait for another prompt and had already slid her blade underneath the keypad bezel.

"Dara, can you make something happen?" Antes asked.

"Let the lady work, bro." Indelli said, her tone admonishing.

Dara ignored all of the excess conversation as she popped the bezel free of the keypad housing, yanked a few wires loose and twisted them together. There was a spark and then a panel on the entrance hatch came to life. Dara's fingers blurred over the console as she entered commands into the terminal. To Antes, it seemed as though she randomly entered passcodes and when one wouldn't work, she'd try another. A full on smile blossomed on her face when the door chimed.

"Easy money," Dara said aloud, prideful at what she'd just done. Antes made a note to ask her how she cracked that code knowing full well that a skill like that might come in handy someday.

The hatch popped open with a gust of air, inviting them in. They climbed down the ladder into the dimly lit bunker. Once they gathered their feet, they brought their CR4s to the ready and stacked up. Antes took point, Camilo brought up the rear. Harkening back to basic training, they moved crisply through the room, clearing corners and hatches that led to nowhere.

"Hey guys," Dara said as she took a seat at the only working piece of technology in the room. "Take a look at this."

"What is it?" Camilo asked.

"Looks like another access hatch. This one leads to the roof."

Antes looked at the others and the look they shared said the same thing. The moment she keyed that hatch, they were going to be stuck in the kill box.

"You ready?" Antes asked them as they leveled off their weapons. "Okay, Dara. Hit it."

She pressed the button on the screen and a hatch on the far side of the room opened, exposing a flight of stairs that led to the roof. The next thing any of them knew, auto turrets sprung out of housings in the ceiling and showered them with a thunder storm of stun blasts.

Camilo and Antes, having developed some kind of synergy over the course of this exercise, shared a glance. In unison, they flipped a nearby metal table on its side and the entire team dove for cover behind it.

"Okay, Antes. What's the plan now? You got us here. How are you gonna get us out?" Camilo asked him.

Antes thoughts raced. They couldn't withstand this kind of onslaught for much longer -- not if they were going to win this thing and get one back against the Commander. As the seconds clocked by, only one course of action seemed to make any sense.

"I'm gonna make a run for it. But I'm gonna need some cover."

He got affirmative nods from his teammates. All the while, turrets continue to bombard their position.Antes took a deep breath, slid a fresh ammo clip home and crouched, ready to make his move. Camilo grabbed him by the shoulder.

"Get this thing done, Golden Boy. We're counting on you. Now go!"

With that directive, Antes sprung out from behind their cover and emptied a clip into one of the auto turrets. Blue lightning crackled along its surface as the EMP discharge from the rifle's ammunition overwhelmed its circuitry.

The resulting explosion was loud and pretty.

From a full sprint, Antes slid feet first behind a pillar as his team blanketed the room with cover fire from their compromised position.

Another turret ceased firing, out of commission.

He slid his last clip into the CR4 and racked the slide. A deep breath escaped him one last time before he bolted for the staircase that would take him to the bunker's rooftop. Turrets tracked and followed him, and he fired at them as he ran lucky to hit anything at all. Even luckier to avoid being hit.

Sunlight flooded Antes' vision as he emerged from the passageway, his breathing haggard.

At that instant, he forgot all about exercise. About the Commander. About all of it. The only image in his mind's eye was the objective. The only priority -- victory.

Make it to that flag, pop green smoke, and it's all over. We win.

Meters away, flowing in its glory, attached to a tall metal rod was the objective of Commander Warren's exercise. With his shoulder, he wiped the sweat from his forehead and eyed the prize.

Antes reached into the cargo pocket on his jumpsuit and retrieved a pair of metal-encased flares. He dashed for the flag as two lines of drones took shots at him from adjacent bunker roofs. That didn't stop him—he only ran faster.

Only a little more, he thought, Almost there.

He fired the CR4 wildly back and forth in both directions. Antes couldn't tell if any of his shots came close to hitting. But then one of the drones fell. Then another. Then another.

"Keep moving!" Jamin's excited voice rang into Antes' comlink, startling him just a bit. "I've got you covered!"

Antes stole a glance up to see the Jamin providing cover fire from a nearby bunker's rooftop and promised himself to thank Jamin later. Then he resolved to thank him now, by winning this exercise.

His CR4 clicked empty and he flung it aside. Didn't have much use for that anymore anyway. All he needed was the flares.

His feet moved faster with each step and he dove head-first into a roll. Now sliding feet first, Antes outstretched his free hand and grazed the flagpole. The momentum carried him over the edge, the ground sliding out from beneath him. With his free hand he managed to catch himself. He stole a glance down and gritted his teeth as one of the flares slid from his grasp.


- - -

Surgically, Jamin unloaded short burst after short burst into the drones until his clip clicked empty. He thumbed the clip release and reloaded as fast as he could. All just to give Antes enough time to pull himself up somehow and reach the flag.

"Don't you lose this thing for us, boss," he muttered.

Jamin surprised himself, wondering when he stopped viewing Antes as Golden Boy but as the guy he put his faith in to take them to the promised land of victory.

With a fresh clip in, he took aim and fired once more.

- - -

Pulling with every ounce of strength left, Antes inched his way back up to the top of the bunker. His bicep flared as a sharp pain shot down his arm. Antes couldn't stop. Not like this.

Short, rapid fire bursts from Jamin's skilled rifle filled the air for seconds at a time.

Antes ignored the aches stabbing into him as he pulled himself back to bunker's roof. Gathering everything he had left, he sprinted to the flag and took a knee. He smashed the base of his remaining flare into the ground and waved it high over his head with his good arm. The plumes of thick, green smoke rose into the air.

The same air siren that signified the start of the exercise rang out.

It was over. They'd done it. 

Sweaty and out of breath, Antes no longer felt the pain in his arm. Jamin, two rooftops over cheered. This was the thrill of victory, and it felt damned good. 

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