The night passed in a restless sleep of tossing and turning, blanketed by black clouds. None of us felt or looked refreshed, only drained by the pestering questions and nothing coming to mind to hold them back. We were walking zombies when we trudged into the mess hall. By then, everyone on base knew of our night Op, their eyes following us with curious stares as we served our breakfast and stumbled to our metal table, whispers following our every step.
“Wow, you guys look like utter shit. Am I the only one who got some decent sleep?” Kylie asked as she happily took a seat next to Fox who was falling asleep with his cheek resting on his raised palm. Groans were her answer, particularly with Rooi covering her ears and screwing her eyes shut.
“When is the Humvee coming to take you away?” Victor muttered, nibbling on his bacon. “Your voice is beginning to grate on everyone’s nerves.”
“An hour from now,” Kylie gritted out between clenched teeth. Back in school, if my memory served right, she was a ringleader of popular girls and attracted every guy’s attention. But that was high school and it would not work here with a bunch of soldiers whose tastes changed. She also was not used to the lack of attention we were giving her as well as the men around us.
“How can you stand not being around me when I am surely much better company than that loser? At least I talk nicely to you, he most likely glowers at you before walking off. And you-” Kylie smirked, her fork coming to stab the air in the direction of Echo who glared at her. “You can’t be his boyfriend now, look at you. You, Echo was it? You are way out of his league! Why don’t you come and play with a real hottie like me?”
“Stop looking at me like that or I will vomit,” Echo growled, turning to me, eyes going up and down my body as he smirked. “The only hottie I need is this one sitting right next to me. Kylie, you really need to give up this high school thinking you have, it does not work around here nor in the world, we now live in. Anyway, babe, you wanna eat outside in the sun? We did miss our romantic shower this morning.”
Laughing softly, I nodded as I side-glanced Kylie. Her expression at that exact moment was priceless. But then I caught the pleading stares from the others. How could I go and leave them to deal with her?
“Let’s take the team out too. We all need some fresh air and sun from last night’s cold.”
“Sure thing. Grab your trays.”
In a flash, we were outside, spread around a warm stone table in the sun with our trays in front of us. When our minds caught up with the change in surroundings, we burst out in laughter at the thought of a stunned Kylie sitting alone at our table not knowing where we disappeared to. The reprieve of that amusement allowed for the dark cloud hanging over us to dispel.
When we had finished our food, we sat back, taking in the courtyard that Echo had teleported us to. It was beautiful, taken completely back by nature as vines wrapped themselves around the pedestals outlining the court and wildflowers pushed through the concrete. A couple of minutes after we had teleported, birdsong began to play as small birds flew from tree to tree. It was serene.
“We need to come here more often,” Victor stated, winking at me as he gestured to Echo with a grin. My cheeks burned as I rolled my eyes at him.
“Is this your quiet place Echo?” Rooi asked, tilting her head as she watched a particular blue feathered bird swoop down for a closer look at us.
“Yup, when I disappear, I come here to cool down and clear my mind. Also, to get away from you crazy lot.” Echo chuckled, leaning his head against mine.
“We all need our quiet spots nowadays in these crazy times,” Fox stated with a sigh, his general carefree tone gone. Rooi patted his shoulder.
“I second that. It’s like wherever we go we will be greeted with the same situation like last night, especially if Tango decides Gifted team needs to become legit,” Victor started, looking around our group. “We don’t even know the head of the base, but here we are being deployed.”
“On that note, I was wondering how old everyone was? We don’t really know a lot about each other, but knowing how old each of us is, is a start.” Placing my fork down, I waited for the question to sink in before carrying on. “I’m eighteen.”
“Victor and I are the same age as you,” Echo said, hand coming to clasp mine.
“I turned nineteen earlier this month,” Fox stated, looking thoughtful before his eyes widened. “Rooi, you’re turning sixteen in two months! I almost forgot...”
“I did.” Rooi laughed, her eyes closing before opening. “We live in such a messed-up time that normal everyday things are easily forgotten. Like, we all should be in high school and college but instead, here we are sitting in the sun in the middle of a military base.”
“The irony of it all is that our situation revolves around a stone bench.” Sighing, I squeezed Echo’s hand, snuggling closer.
“Anyone wants to tell me why you left Kylie alone?” Everyone jumped as Tango’s question broke our comfortable bubble. He stood with his fists resting on his hips as he stared down at us. No one was keen on answering. “Was she really that bad?”
“You have no idea,” I muttered, feeling relieved that he wasn’t angry at us.
“I see. Well, Gifted, she’s gone and Alpha team is waiting at Gym 5 for some reason. They know there is a room for that, but they choose that. When you’re done here, I suggest going straight there.” Tango glanced around us, a small smile on his lips. “I’m glad you are all smiling.”
Gym 5 was crawling with activity. Soldiers, seeming to try to outdo each other, worked on the machinery, did push-ups on the ground and pull-ups on the bars as well as lifted weights. Alpha team sat on the sparring mats, looking unimpressed by the men around them.
“Why are they all here?” Rooi asked, having to step out of the way for a buff soldier not even noticing us.
“I don’t know,” Fox muttered, making his sister stand behind him so she would not be accidentally trodden on. She was protected, I was not when someone was shoved into me. We both fell, our heads clashing together as we hit the ground.
Holding my throbbing head, I blinked rapidly against the spots in my vision. Echo was crouched next to me, his hands coming to cover mine as he examined me before glowering at the private. The gym was dead silent, everyone’s attention on us.
“You okay?” Echo asked, his hands becoming cool. Nodding, I could feel the anger in me wanting to burn the asshole who collided with me.
“Ollie, you okay?” The soldier, Ollie, groaned, holding his head too as he sat up. The one that asked him if he was okay went to help him up. “Shit, Kingston is coming...”
“What is happening here?” Kingston’s booming, agitated voice even made me shiver as he strode over to us. Echo helped me up, his arm coming around me as the world spun. Ollie and the other soldier, who looked identical, both stood at attention. They were silent, matching frightened, freckled faces forward.
“Kingston, I’m fine, let’s just get the debrief over with,” I sighed out, leaning into Echo as exhaustion sapped my energy.
“Not yet, Alpha. I want to know how Ollie here was shoved into you,” Kingston growled, taking a step forward. The atmosphere in Gym 5 continued to rise in tension. Faces around us showed different forms of dread and curiosity, to see the great Kingston dish out punishment.
“We were just joking around. I accidentally pushed my brother too hard and he lost his footing, falling into Alpha. It won’t happen again, sir,” The nameless twin stammered out, his green eyes flicking up and down as he waited for Kingston to speak. Ollie only stared forward, eyes dipping down to glance at me before back up.
“I hope not because I might just ask our resident Gifted here to treat you kindly for hurting one of their own. I know a certain one would like to teleport you both to the Everest base if they could.” Kingston smirked as he looked the twins up and down before glancing at us with a nod. With a glance over my shoulder at the twins, I followed the others to Alpha team’s spot. As soon as we sat, everyone went back to what they had been doing before we arrived.