And because everyone was so patient, here's a little holiday bonus.
April pushed her hair behind her ears, took a deep breath, and tried again.
Hesitation, and then a raised hand. “Fifteen?”
“No, that’s the Glock 22. Remember? We learned that one on Tuesday. But good job for remembering, Thomas.”
The little frown on his face turned into a wide grin at her praise; Thomas did
show promise for a five-year-old, and his eagerness to please could mature into fierce determination in combat, given the right guidance.
April’s eyes slid over the faces assembled before her, but no light of recognition could be found on any of them; no more hands went up. This was always a problem with young children. If one of them had failed, they were less inclined to try it themselves. Her eyes came to rest on Charley, and her lips thinned at the bored look on his face. At seven years old, he was the oldest of the group, and he had begun to think that he was too old for these “baby games”.
Which was almost true at this point. His math and reading levels were advanced, even for his age; he could multiply almost anything quickly in his head, and he had memorized and mastered binary code. Only his lock picking was sub-par, to his frequent embarrassment; he could open almost anything, but he just couldn’t do it as quickly as he should. Especially when his hands were tied at odd angles, and each failure made him more sullen in daily class. But he would have to pass that test before he could move on with his education; his life could depend on this someday.
And April would rather face his frustration now than his corpse later.
“Charley? Do you
know how many rounds a Beretta 96 carries?”
She saw his eyes flash; he wouldn’t keep silent if his pride was on the line.
April only smiled. “Very good, Charley. Alright, that’s enough for today. We’ll have free time for the last half hour, and then you’re free to go.”
The younger children squealed and scrambled from where they had been sitting in a circle; there was always a rush for the crayons that weren’t broken, or the seat under the light bulb that didn’t flicker.
April leaned heavily against the concrete wall before pushing off to go organize her desk. As she gathered up the results of the morning’s typing tests, she heard a throat being cleared behind her. She didn’t have to turn around to know who, or what he wanted.
“The answer is still ‘no’, Charley.”
She was fully expecting the explosion of young anger.
“That’s not fair! I want to take the test again! I’m not a baby…..Tim and Morgan and Joel have already graduated to higher training, and it’s just not fair…”
April took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Whoever would end up with Charley would need a lot of patience with his strong spirit. She put the papers down and turned to face him.
“Charley…I know you miss your friends, and I know you feel left behind by the other kids your age. But you shouldn’t take the test again so soon. You know what the doctor said; you dislocated your shoulder the last time, and the ligaments need some time to heal. I’m not going to let you try for at least two more weeks, and that’s final.”
Two more weeks can seem like an eternity to a child, but Charley conceded and stormed off to a corner to sulk. He would make a good soldier someday, but he would need a lot of training. Too many with his personality got themselves killed. April turned back to her papers, but was interrupted by a pull on her overalls. She looked down to see Rachel, whose blonde hair never seemed to stay combed for more than five minutes.
“Miss April? I drew a picture. I drew a picture for my daddy. See? It’s for my daddy.”
She beamed as she hoisted the paper. April gently took it, and tried not to frown when she saw the content. For a three-year-old, it was a very detailed rendition of a shoot-out.
“Wow, Rachel….You…did a very good job.”
“It’s of when my daddy lost his leg. See? That’s him, shooting the bad guys. He’s on the ground, though, ‘cause of his leg.”
April looked to where she was pointing. Apparently, she would have to find some more red crayons; the one used for this picture must be worn down to a nub by now. Perhaps it would be best if Rachel didn’t present this to her still-recovering father.
“You know what, Rachel? This drawing is so
good, I’m going to hang it up right here.”
Confusion crossed her little face for a split second before she smiled and nodded her head enthusiastically. That was the moment that the first shell struck. Their classroom may have been underground, and it may not have been a direct hit, but April was still nearly knocked off her feet. Some of the youngest children screeched with panicked surprise, and the lights flickered off, but April quickly righted herself and kept her voice calm.
“Alright, everyone, we’ve practiced this. Everyone hold the hand of the person closest to you, and we’re going to go down the stairs to the lower bunker. Remember, stay quiet and watch your step.”
It took them nearly five minutes to reach safety, but April was otherwise happy with their response; no one had panicked, and everyone was accounted for and unharmed. But the impacts continued to hit hard above them, moving closer. Lucky for the Resistance, Authority didn’t know the exact
location of their subterranean facilities; but they had a good enough idea to make for some pretty close calls.
She looked into the darkness as the earth itself seemed to buck and roll. Of all the little faces huddled together, Rachel’s held her glance. The normally blue eyes were black and round, and the little girl had pressed both hands firmly to her mouth. Tears rolled down her pale cheeks, but not even a whimper emerged from between her fingers. Good girl.
Some skills are best learned early.
This one isn't as action-packed as the others, but it's necessary to the plot. (Hopefully not boring. Hopefully never boring.) As always, critique is lovely and highly appreciated.