12 Brothers…new writing, unedited, incomplete…

Training started at 0500 the following morning. Ghost stood outside of the live fire range, a cup of coffee in hand and his rifle hung from a D-ring in front of him. The eleven other men walked up to him with similar setups.

“Morning,” Ghost said after he sipped his coffee. “Y’all ready to burn through some ammo?”

“Always ready,” Reaper growled. “I love shooting and blowing crap up.”

The other guys laughed and nodded. Ghost grinned and joined in the laughter. Menace put away his smile and lifted his chin toward Ashley as she made her way toward them.

“What does little girlie think she’s doing?”

“I invited her to come out and shoot, Menace. Way I figured it, if she wanted in the group, she’d need to earn her way,” Ghost said as he finished his coffee.

“It’ll take a lot more than her firing a few rounds with us to win me over, boss man.”

“That’s why she’s running every scenario with us. Consider it basic training for her and team building for us. Now, let’s get to work.”

The team split in two. Team Alpha started on pistol training with Menace taking lead. Ghost led Team Bravo. They started with advanced rifle marksmanship. After two hours of firing drills the team took a break.

Menace walked up to Ghost and passed him a cup of coffee. He sat down next to Ghost and took a sip from his cup.

“Girlie can shoot,” said Menace. “She shot Hawkeye on pistol.”

“I suppose the agency, whichever one she is claiming to be from today, taught her to use one. Still, it’s nice to know she doesn’t miss on paper targets.”

“Yeah,” Menace grunted. “Paper targets don’t shoot back though. Do you trust her?”

“I don’t trust anyone. Trust is earned in the fires of combat. I guess we will see if we can trust her when we head into Indian country.”

“Gonna be a hard lesson if we’re wrong.”

“Yeah, but at least we will know.”

“True enough.”

The men finished their coffee and grabbed their gear. They finished off the day with heavy weapons. Ghost grinned as he stood behind the .50 caliber machine gun.

“Is there anything better in life than hearing the hum of Ma Deuce as she sings the song of her people,” Ghost wondered silently as he depressed the butterfly trigger. “I think not.”

That evening, after a quiet dinner and an after-action-review, the group gathered around and cleaned weapons. Ashley joined them. She pulled up a chair and broke down her sidearm and pulled out her cleaning kit.

No one said anything, but she felt every eye on her. Menace cleared his throat and met her eyes.

“You did good out there on the range, ma’am. Have you ever seen combat?”

“As you define combat, Menace? No. I’ve always worked from the shadows.”

“You ever put down a human being?”

Ashley said nothing in response to his question. None of the men said anything, and Menace let the question drop.

“You don’t respect me, Menace. I understand that” Ashley said quietly. “But don’t question my loyalty to the mission. I’ve worked this mission long before any of you showed up here.”

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