Hook checked them over one last time; every single trooper had their weapons poised, their feet firmly planted.
He looked over his shoulder at the sim-trainer analysts, and nodded.
One second passed from the hum of the simulation room to the onset of screeching arachnids. The sim-bugs were all over the place, but so were the troopers.
Out of them all, Cyber had a flair for theatrics. No more standing in the center of the room to die, he would move between them, and once, Hook actually saw him launch himself from the corner of the room and slide beneath three bugs, taking them all out so that they collapsed nearly on top of him.
Kai and Spitz high-fived each other after he made that move.
This was the squads fourth practice in a row. They were exhausted, and even the air-conditioning system couldnt dry up their perspiration. But into the third practice session, Hook saw them coming together. This practice was to make sure it wasnt a fluke.
After Cybers move, and the congratulatory hand-moves between Kai and Spitz, it was obvious that it wasnt.
They were becoming a team united.
Hook was suddenly shoved to the ground, and found Spitz on top of him, firing over his shoulder.
Spitz, there are regulations specific about cross-rank dating.
She smirked. Thanks, lieutenant, but I dont have the time.
Docs jaw dropped. Did I just hear her say that? He asked between shots.
Smoke patted him on the back. Get those brain bugs outta her head, and shes full of sarcasm.
You have no idea, she laughed.
Hook allowed himself a smile. Of course, he made sure no one saw him do it, not even the sim-trainer analysts.
Fifth practice session: again, he checked them, and again, their weapons were poised and they were ready. And again, they tightened up their format. Once in a while, there would be a warning shouted to each other about nearby sim-bugs, but most of the time, they read each others body language. It was pleasantly surprising.
Not even the Hellions did that.
Sixth session: he paired them off in twos to change the dynamics of the room. Cyber and Smoke, Doc and Spitz, Hook and Nanoforge, and Smoke and Chiquita.
The first few seconds seconds there was confusion, but they found each others groove and took care of the sims.
Hook switched the pairs around. And again, it took about four seconds before they accomplished their task.
Before the eighth session, Hook allowed them a small break. They were panting, and now most of them were doubled over, rubbing their backs or calves. Only Cyber and Hook stood without moving.
Cyber still couldnt look the lieutenant in the eyes, he was just too formidable; however, there was something different now about Hook that offered Cyber a chance to relax a bit.
With Cyber watching him, Hook left the room to talk to the analysts; he whispered a few instructions then re-entered the room.
One last session.
No one complained but they took their time standing straight again.
This time, he intoned, Im killing you off.
They exchanged confused glances between each other.
I need to see how long you can last.
Do we take numbers, lieutenant? Chiquita asked.
Dont worry, Chiq, Ill take care of it.
Oh. Youll take care of it. Very thoughtful of you.
This time, he smirked at them.
Thats why Im the lieutenant, and you guys are nothing but floor mopping apes.
Floor-mopping apes, huh? Kai rolled her eyes. Thanks for the compliment, lieutenant.
Anytime I can build your ego, Kai. Now get out there.
They set up as usual, shoulder-to-shoulder in a small circle: weapons at the ready, feet planted.
The simulation began. And as before, they ably took care of their foe.
Until Hook began picking them off from behind the glass.
First it was Smoke; he was shot in the knee, and as he fell, he felt the static electricity of the sim-warrior all over him. He was frozen where he was.
It opened the opportunity for the sim-bugs.
One by one, the troopers fell.
Without realizing it, they were desperately calling out warnings to each other.
But they still fell.
Frozen in place, they couldnt even look at each other.
Hook entered the room.
Howd we do? Nanoforge inquired.
Better than I thought.
Chiquita smiled. Thats good to know.
Ah but youre all still dead.
Hello. Who was pressing all the buttons?
Survive long enough and maybe youll get to press buttons, too. Hook slung his rifle over his back. Back to the barracks. Shower, then go to chow.
Relieved and weary, the squad couldnt get back to the barracks fast enough.
Hook remained at the sim-building. Finding an unoccupied sim-room, he keyed in a program; slowly, quietly, he entered the room alone, lost in thought.
With a sigh, he started the remote countdown to the simulation and stood his ground.
A thought occurred to him. He moved to the center of the room, closed his eyes, and opened his arms. He felt the sim-bug get him.
Feel better, lieutenant? Cyber asked quietly.
Hook was caught off-guard and turned to see Cyber standing in the doorway. Their eyes locked. Cyber moved into the room, averting his eyes.
Why arent you with the others? Hook watched Cyber walk around the room.
I dont know. Cyber stopped and faced Hook directly. Did it meet your expectations? When you died?
Hook raised an eyebrow.
Do you mean now?
Hook sighed, and rubbed the back of his neck.
I dont know. I dont know if I had any expectations.
An uncomfortable silence settled between them before Hook spoke.What about you? You havent died in a while.
Cyber looked around the room.
I dont have that drive anymore.
You havent lost your touch. Your scores remain the highest.
I dont mean that. I mean he shrugged. Im tired.
Arent we all?
The corner of Cybers mouth turned upward just barely.
Sir, he replied smartly.
Hook set up the program once more. Feel like a few more rounds?
Cyber removed his rifle from his backpack, and edged down.
Let the games begin, Hook smiled.