1: Humble Beginnings (3/3)

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Antes took a knee and looked around at the faces huddled up with him. This was the last place he wanted to be -- in an infantry fire team with a bunch of people he didn't care to know and his twin sister.

He only wanted to fly. That was it. Antes harbored no desire for command -- he'd seen first-hand the burden of leadership shouldered by his father and knew that he wanted no part of that kind of responsibility.

Yet here he was, faced with that prospect.

He shook the notion away. If he were honest with himself, he'd acknowledge that beneath his phobia of responsibility was a deep rooted fear of failure. He probably couldn't even admit to himself that the fear of failure had been such a huge motivating factor in his life. Being his father's son, he was expected to achieve certain things -- even if his own father didn't share those expectations. That pressure to achieve had been hard-wired into Antes whether he'd admit it or not. And the thought of not realizing that potential was something that he'd buried deep into his subconscious long ago.

But he wasn't honest with himself.

Nor was he self-aware enough to see the giant chip Antes carried on his shoulder.

All of this seemed to culminate in this moment before his team began their assault on the Commander's obstacle course.

That his success or failure would rest in the hands of others -- this team that the Commander picked for him, irked him. But, just like he had time and time before on his journey to Alloyo, this was just another challenge for him to meet and overcome. He couldn't focus on failure at the moment. All he could focus on was the task at hand. Antes forced the negativity aside and regained his determined edge.

If the Commander hoped to see him fail, he would be sorely disappointed. He'd make sure they'd win; show the Commander that he could meet and surpass any benchmark. It was what he'd always done up until this point. And he'd continue to do just that.

He met the wide-eyed glares of the cadets gathered around him.

"Alright guys, listen. Most of you probably don't know me. And I definitely don't know some of you. Regardless, we're going to win this thing and throw it right back in Commander Warren's face."

"And how exactly do you plan on that, Golden Boy?" That was from Camilo Ripley -- a cadet Antes characterized as quiet. He knew little more about him beyond his being a capable pilot. Antes regarded him closely.

"We split up. Put a spotter and a shooter on overwatch to cover a three-person team as we move to secure the objective."

"That's your plan?" Camilo questioned.

"You have a better one?" Antes said, returning fire.

"Well for one, we don't have any intel. It might be a good idea to send a scout ahead, call out anything our overwatch team doesn't. That is, if we've even got a shooter."

Antes nodded. Camilo was right. They had no idea about the lay of the land, and there was only so much coverage that overwatch could provide.

"Good point. Anyone want to volunteer as our eyes up there?"

A timid-hand belonging to a brown-haired cadet came up.

"That should be me," he said laconically, voice tinged with cool confidence.

The black haired, hazel-eyed Jamin Myveson tightly clutched the strap to his CR4 Assault Rifle. Before Antes or anyone could say another word, Jamin spoke.

"I'm marksman rated at ranges up to a klick."

Taking Jamin at his word, Antes and Camilo nodded satisfactorily at each other. There was no time to question his qualifications. If the guy said he was marksman rated, better they trust him than not. Lying about that did no one any favors. Antes looked to his sister.

"Indelli, I want you up there spotting for Jamin, you got it?"

"No can do. We both know I should be the scout," Indelli protested.

She had the same brown hair and dark brown eyes as Antes, though the Eslos sister wore her much longer hair in a single, long braid that went to the middle of her back. Her eyes flared with a determined intensity that Antes knew all too well -- it was the same look he often gave when his decision was already made.

And she wasn't wrong either.

Antes resigned himself. That meant Jamin would have to lose his spotter. The alternative forced them to run a two-person team on the ground and Antes was certain they wouldn't be able to pull this off if they went that way. He turned to the black-haired cadet.

"Jamin, you good on overwatch solo?"

The response was a silent nod in the affirmative and that was all Antes needed.

"Alright then, Looks like it's us on the ground."

Antes turned to Camilo then to the red headed girl crouched next to him. Her name was Dara Joyce, that he knew as she and Indelli were friends. She came across as on the reserved side. Antes would have described her as cuter than she was pretty. They locked eyes for the briefest of moments and it caught him off guard.

He felt the color flushing to flushing into his cheeks. Antes quickly checked the ammunition magazine and chamber of his CR4 to jumble his thoughts free.

Focus, Antes.

And focus on the task at hand he did.

"OK guys. Here's the plan. Indelli, scout ahead. Use your comlink to call out anything you see that might pose a problem for us. Don't engage unless absolutely necessary. We don't know what tricks the Commander's got in store for us, but with these things loaded up with EMP rounds I'm guessing some kind of drones."

She nodded, brow furrowed.

"Jamin, you're our eyes up there. Anything you see, call it out or light it up."

He gave Antes a succinct nod.

"The rest of us will stack up and follow Indelli's lead until we get to that bunker in the back and pop smoke."

Antes looked up at Camilo.

"You satisfied with that, Ripley?"

Camilo's blank expression broke into a crooked smile.

"Who would've thought Antilla's Golden Boy had it in him? Plan seems good to me. Dara?"

"Ready if you guys are," she said with a smile.

That settled it. The team had the plan, the only thing left was to execute. They rose from their loose semi circle and stood shoulder-to-shoulder, eyeing down their objective. One by one, they readied their weapons, clicking off their safeties. He quickly glanced to his left and to his right and for the first time since earlier in the morning, Antes felt a wave of calm -- even though his heart threatened to beat through his chest.

This might even be fun.

Then, an air siren rang out and the game was on.

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