Akila led them outside and lined them up on the runway. Tamara was holding her rifle casually, so that it was pointed at Caleb, who was standing next to her. Akila walked over and pushed the barrel of her gun so that it was pointing at the ground. “Rule number one, people: your gun’s always loaded. Even when you’re sure it isn’t. Don’t point it at anyone unless you mean to shoot them.” Then she went through a few basics, where the safety was, the importance of not having their fingers on the triggers until they were ready to shoot. She showed them how to insert and remove the clip, how to check the chamber to see if there was a round in it.
“Take care of your weapon. These weapons are very reliable, but they are automatic weapons. If you get a bunch of dirt and crud in them they might refuse to work right when you need them the most. Don’t lay them down on the ground.”
After a half hour of this, Santiago said, “This is getting boring. I want to shoot something. When do we get bullets?”
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Akila stopped in front of him and stared at him. Her eyes were hidden behind her aviator sunglasses and she had no expression on her face. After a minute Santiago began to fidget.
“First of all, they aren’t bullets. Bullets are what flies out of the end of the rifle. They are cartridges. Second of all, I’m not giving you a cartridge until I’m reasonably sure you won’t shoot one of us or yourself.” Santiago scowled at her, but she ignored him.
“Here’s what we’re going to practice next,” she said. Her rifle was over her shoulder, hanging by its sling. She brought the weapon down, worked the action to chamber a round, flicked the safety off and brought the weapon to her shoulder. She looked down the sights and there was a click as she dry-fired it.
“Now you try.” One at a time they did the same, clumsily and with lots of fumbling. Santiago swore when he pinched his finger inserting the clip. Nate dropped his clip in the dirt and had to wipe it clean before inserting it. Tamara dropped her rifle completely.
“It’s those long nails,” Akila said. “You have to cut them. You too, Jordynn.”
“Oh no,” Tamara said, shaking her head. “I’m not cutting my nails.” She held up her hands. Her nails were long and lacquered red. “These are natural. Do you have any idea how long it took me to grow them?” Jordynn was shaking her head too.
“So you’d rather get shot than cut your nails? Is that what you’re saying?”
“I just don’t think all of this is necessary,” Tamara said. “Besides, it’s hot out here and I’m getting all sweaty.”
“What’s your plan when those men come back?” Akila asked icily.
“Maybe they won’t come back.”
“Do you really think they’re going to just let us keep this place? Are you that naïve or just dumb?”
Tamara’s face twisted. “Don’t talk to me that way,” she snapped. “I’m not one of your soldiers and you’re not my sergeant.”
Nate saw the muscles in Akila’s jaw bunch and wondered how close she was to clocking Tamara, but Caleb intervened before anything could happen.
“Come on, lass. Just go along with it. I’m sure it won’t be that much longer. Right, Akila? We’ll stop soon?”
Akila considered this, then shrugged. “Sure. Not too much longer. Pick up your rifle and try it again, Tamara.”
“Back up first. Get out of my face.” Slowly Akila took a step back. Tamara picked up her rifle and worked her way through the exercise.
“Now, everyone together,” Akila said. They struggled through the exercise. “Again.”
After they’d done it a few more times Santiago said, “Okay, that’s enough. Give us some ammo.” A chorus of voices echoed him. Reluctantly, Akila went down the line and handed them each five rounds. “Only load one,” she said.
“Seriously?” Santiago said.
“Do I have to remind you how few of them we have?”
“No. I heard you the first time. But how are we going to learn if you only let us fire one round each?”
“We’re not having this discussion. Who wants to go first?”
“I do,” Caleb said. Akila had set up a five-gallon bucket about fifty yards away. She stepped to the side while he aimed at it. He fired. The bucket didn’t move. “Damn, that’s got a kick,” Caleb said.
“Nice try,” Santiago said with a smile. “Now watch how it’s done.” He also missed. Caleb laughed and Tony booed. Santiago frowned. “The sights are off.” There was more heckling.
In the end, the only one of them to hit the bucket was Jenna. Maha, standing on the roof of the warehouse watching, clapped and gave her a thumbs up. “Damn, girl!” Caleb shouted.
Carl came out from behind the jet and walked up to them. “Good news, folks. The jet’s in better shape than I thought at first. With some work, I think we can get her in the air in a day or two. Also, Dave checked that tank over there and it is aviation fuel so we’re set there.”
Cheering met his words and Caleb clapped him on the back. “This calls for a party,” he said.
“Didn’t you guys drink up everything last night?” Tony asked.
Caleb’s face fell. “Shit. I forgot about that.”
“Maybe there’s some in the warehouse,” Tamara said.
Caleb brightened. “There’s a ton of dope here. Why not booze as well?”
“Let’s go look,” Tamara said. She dropped her rifle in the dirt and hooked her arm through Caleb’s. They started for the warehouse, Santiago and Jordynn following.
Akila picked up Tamara’s rifle. “I don’t know how long I can make it before I break something on that girl.” She straightened, saw Jenna still standing there. “Where’d you learn how to shoot?”
“My dad taught me. He was in the Russian military before he immigrated to the US.”
“He did a good job.”
“It’s the only thing he did a good job at. One day he went out for a bottle of vodka and we never heard from him again.”
“I’m sorry,” Akila said.
“Don’t be. We were better off without him. He was a mean drunk.”
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