“Changing things up today?” Grady asked. Both teams were gathered in front of the firing range, and Crystal and Grady were standing off to the side. “Are we going for round two?”
“Flint came to me this morning and asked me for help, so that’s what we’re going to do,” Crystal said.
“Help with what?”
“How to fight an invisible army.”
Grady looked surprised, but in a satisfied way. “So your plan yesterday worked. She’s finally starting to see that things are different here.”
“Thanks to you, we are now dealing with a much kinder, humbler Flint. She even agreed to help out our team in return.”
His surprise shaded to skepticism. “How could she possibly help us? We won, remember.”
Crystal wagged a finger at him. “Don’t get cocky, Jim,” she warned him. “You missed your shot at Price and allowed him and Flint to get through to me. I’d say you’re getting a little rusty.”
“You’re cute,” he said, one eyebrow up. “Wrong but cute.”
Crystal just shook her head as she observed her team. None of them had yet to acknowledge a single member of Flint’s team. Even Justin and Tyler—who were roommates—were acting as if the other man didn’t exist. It seemed as though the only thing Crystal and Flint had accomplished with their little feud was to pit their teams against one another. That would end today.
“Do you really think Flint’s team is going to like working with us just because you two decided to play nice?” asked Grady. “I mean, we did beat them pretty badly yesterday.”
She sighed. “You rubbed their faces in it, didn’t you?”
“Maybe a little,” Grady said with a devilish grin.
“Don’t worry—Flint’s team will get a chance to pay you back for that this morning.” Crystal patted him on the shoulder and walked away before he had a chance to ask her another question.
“All right, everybody, gather up,” Flint called.
Crystal noticed that no one from her team moved. “She said everybody,” Crystal said as she took her place next to Flint. Slowly, Crystal’s team made their way over to them.
“We’re going to be doing things a little differently from now on: Commander Wolf and I have agreed that moving forward, we will be training together,” Flint announced. Ripples of surprise went through both teams as people began to fidget and whisper.
Crystal spoke up before the whispers could get louder. “Take a good look around. We are all one team now. You need to put whatever differences you have with each other aside. If there is anything we can take away from yesterday’s exercise, it’s that both teams still have a lot of work to do if we want to be the best we can be.” She paused to eyeball both teams. “That’s true for everybody here.”
Flint nodded. “Commander Wolf will be leading this morning’s training. I expect you to give her your undivided attention.” She stepped aside, gesturing at Crystal.
“Today, we’re going to practice strategies for fighting a Sertex army,” Crystal said, letting her gaze fall on each of the team members. “Every member of the Terian military is at least Sertex-dominant. Although it’s safe to assume that higher rank corresponds to being more pure-blooded, all of the Terian fighters will have mastered their camouflage ability. They can stay invisible throughout an entire battle, and we need to be ready to fight that.”
She paused, scanning the crowd. “Grady, Henson, Alister…can you come up here, please?”
“I don’t like where this going,” Grady whispered to the other two as they joined Crystal in the front of the group.
“These are three of my best Sertex soldiers,” she told the teams. “They have complete control over their abilities and are nearly impossible to pick out of the background.” She smiled. “All you have to do today is shoot them. Lieutenant Flint will be working with each of you to perfect your grip and accuracy. Set your guns to level 1 and let’s get started.”
“Do you hate me or something?” Grady muttered to her as the rest of the team was getting ready.
She playfully punched his arm. “Come on, it’ll be fun. It’s not like anyone is going to be able to hit you. I’ll swap you guys out after a couple of rounds,” she said.
Grady, Henson, and Alister took their place in front of the shooting range and then were abruptly gone. Crystal and Flint joined the first three shooters while the rest of the team watched. Flint had them each take a couple of shots at the visible targets so she could assess their stance and aim, and then Crystal coached them on how to spot their invisible teammates.
Crystal was amazed at how well she and Flint were working together. They were turning out to have a natural give-and-take she hadn’t thought was possible. If only they had started cooperating sooner—as Reed had wanted them to—they’d already have a very skilled combat team at their disposal.
After a couple of rounds, Henson and Alister had both been hit, so Crystal pulled them out and replaced them with two more of her Sertex soldiers. She was setting up the next round of shooters when she heard someone behind her say her name. She paused, shifting her attention to whatever was being said.
“I can’t believe we have to take directions from a cocky self-absorbed Earthling,” she heard. “Like there’s anything she could teach me! Not out here, anyway. If we were back in my room, well, now…that would be another story.”
Crystal whirled around and honed in on the speaker. It was a member of her own team. Mullins was his name, if she remembered correctly. His performance had always been slightly above average, but he had yet to stand out during training. She had noticed that he seemed to have a few friends, but he hadn’t tried to get to know most of the team. His absence wouldn’t be much of a loss.
Everyone saw her glare and stepped back, carving out a clear path to him. “You have exactly five seconds to get off my training field,” she snapped.
“You’re sending me home?” Mullins demanded. “For what?”
“No, I’m not sending you home—I’m kicking you off my team,” she informed him, her voice hard. “I will not tolerate any hateful or discriminatory language from anyone on my team. I would make you apologize to Lieutenant Flint, but I have too much respect for her to force her to be in your presence for another minute.”
“Come on, Commander, you can’t be serious!” Mullins objected. “I was just messing around.”
Crystal took another step towards him. “Do you really want to push me? Say one more word, and not only will you be off this team, I’ll see to it that you are permanently removed from Journey’s roster,” she said.
“You can’t do that!” Mullins was sounding decidedly angry now. “Captain Reed choose me for this assignment—you don’t have the authority to kick me off the ship.”
She ignored his outburst. “Go pack your things, soldier. You’re done.” Did he really think Reed would take his side over Crystal’s? The only thing he had accomplished by arguing with her was ruining his career. From the expression on his face, he was just starting to realize that.
Crystal pivoted sharply on her heel, turning her back on Mullins, and walked over to Flint and Grady.
“Who was that?” Flint asked.
“He was our medic,” Grady said.
“Not anymore.” Crystal looked Grady up and down. “Is there a reason I can see you?” Her voice still held a hint of anger, although not directed at him.
“Just taking a break! No harm done, I swear.” Grady held up his hands as if he was surrendering.
“Do you need me to swap somebody in for you?” Crystal tried to soften her voice. Grady wasn’t the one she was mad at.
“No, ma’am, I’ll be good.” It was strange hearing Grady address her so formally.
She gave him a tight smile, then turned to Flint. “Do you mind taking over? I have some calls to make.”
“Sure, no problem,” Flint said.
Crystal started to walk away, but paused when she heard Flint’s voice. “That was pretty bad-ass,” she was saying to Grady, clearly impressed.
“I’ve seen her throw people off of her team for a lot less,” Grady said in response.
A satisfied calm settled over Crystal. It seemed she would be able to work with Flint after all.