“ . . .if you aren’t even human beings. Anyway. . . ” He snapped his fingers twice and stewards came from behind their line, opening the bags and coupling all the weapons together. Belinda walked back to the line, and all twenty-four of them stood at attention.
“Now, pick up one, each of you, and let us actually try hitting something this time. Paul, you first.”
Paul walked forward and picked up one of the M20s. He gripped it with both hands and hefted it onto his shoulder, both arms shaking as he did. The whole class exclaimed loudly as it looked like Paul was about to fire the bazooka by mistake again, but Anne caught it just in time, helping him hold it in place.
“Don’t just hold it on your shoulder,” their class instructor told him. “As you’re holding it with your two hands, press it down on your shoulder, so it won’t shake.”
Paul did as she said, and managed to steady his weapon. Behind both of them, across the training course, Instructor Max looked like he had chewed something bitter.
“Anne, did I tell you to help them do anything?”
“I’m their class instructor,” Anne said, not even turning around. “Last time I checked, being their instructor meant showing them how to do things, so unless you want me not to do my job, Instructor, please don’t call me again.”
Beside Chuks, on his right, Shine muttered “Ooooooooh.” Ehen, Chuks thought. Make she give am im size. Their class instructor might be a woman, but she was very much the right person for this man, as far as he was concerned.
“So Paul, as I was saying, hold it down. There’s your target up there, so you want it pointing up, abi?” Paul nodded. “Okay, so with your hand at the back, pull the rocket down slowly, and release with the one at the front. You see that it’s now slanting up. So now is when you want to fire— Wait o, don’t fire yet o,” Anne said, hurrying away from behind Paul’s rocket launcher to stand at his side.
The class laughed, and Chuks did at well, but he was recording every single thing she was explaining.
“Ehen, now you can fire.”
Paul, did, and Chuks had never seen something better. The bazooka shook a little as it fired, but it didn’t make any difference. The rocket whistled out from its mouth, straight up, and detonated right on target, spraying pieces and smoke down at the foot of the pole.
Anne started clapping for him as he kept the weapon, and the whole class joined in.
“The guy deserves it,” Segun said, his voice masked by his applauding. “If he can fire it— ”
“Stop that nonsense, let another person fire as well,” Instructor Max growled.
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They did, and with Anne there guiding each person on how to do things, not one of them missed a mark. If someone couldn’t carry their rocket well, the class instructor called someone else to help. If the person wanted to fire off-target, she saw it and corrected it, and made sure the backblast zone didn’t get anybody this time.
Chuks could feel the anger radiating off Instructor Max the whole time.
And something else interesting happened. After Segun hit his own mark, Belinda clapped a bit. Chuks looked at his friend, shaking his head in wonder as he saw them sharing another quick, connected moment.
By the time the sun was going down, the ground was littered with bits of scorched, twisted metal, and the smell of smoke and gunpowder hung heavy in the air.
The bags were cleared away, and stewards handed out fried rice, their dinner. As with the last time, the whole class sat in a big circle on the sand, though the stewards hadn’t brought out firewood to light any fire, since it wasn’t yet dark. For once during his stay at Star Ranges, Chuks found himself eating alone. He looked around for his friend and spotted him with one of the stewards, a middle-aged woman who worked at the range, the one who had ignored Segun’s greeting on their first day there, collecting his own food.
Chuks knew they had passed him by. As Segun stood there, Belinda came over. Apparently, they had passed her by as well. Which kind coincidence be this one? Chuks couldn’t help but think. Segun turned and saw her beside him. Chuks jejely set his food down on the sand and watched to see how it would play out.
“It’s nice how this place looks in the evening after training, huh?” Segun said.
“Em. . .yeah, I guess. The sunset and everything.” Chuks looked at where the sun was sinking beyond the Western horizon. The flatness of the land made it seem as if it dropped out of sight abruptly, just past where he could see, and the sun was going down into where the land ended, painting the whole sandy site in a deep, shimmering shade of gold. He decided Belinda was right.