21 May 2116.
It wasn't my idea to start a journal. The thought of it seems pointless. What could I possibly benefit from this? But Sunny insisted that I give it a try. Journaling helps him to process apparently. No matter. I already promised.
Today's an exciting day! We're going to the shooting range. I've been informed that we're going to use real guns this time. Actual guns! I'm so excited my hands are shaking. I hope this will be legible enough later. I am curious though as to why they're just now letting us use real guns as opposed to the air rifles. Why now?
My Papa hasn't told me much about using real guns. He's used a lot of them, which makes complete sense because he's in the military. I remember when he visited the academy a while back. Apparently, there's a lot of debate over guns, that they're dangerous or need to be regulated. Some people think guns shouldn't be used at all.
'It's not the guns' he said, 'It's the people. An inanimate object can't do anything by itself. It has no life or judgment. Humans merely give labels. Can anything in this world, when stripped down, be good or bad? Or is it a matter of humans perceiving the world as such, delegating power or weight to otherwise meaningless things?'
I still don't really understand what he was saying. He tends to lecture a lot, and if I'm being honest, I only listen about half the time. But he won't ever know that...
Anyway, we leave for practice soon. I'm still really excited. I might follow up with another entry tonight. I can see why Sunny likes to do this.
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Dirt swirled in the hot air and peppered across the children's faces. The sun beat down on them mercilessly. It would only be a matter of time before they would all start to melt in the unbearable heat. Kira's fellow cadets of Freedom Military Academy stood behind five white tables lined up at each end. On each table were 10 sets containing assault rifles, bullets, noise-canceling headphones, eye goggles, and vests. She pulled the collar of her black shirt that was tucked into black cargo pants, cloth sticking to her back from sweat. Good thing they had their canteens and there were water jugs close by the shooting range.
At 12 years old, most of the cadets hadn't used a real gun until now, only air rifles with pellets. This would be their first time. Pellets were still dangerous of course, but bullets held much more weight. Their officer made sure there would be no joking around today. He paced back and forth agonizingly slow with his wide-brim dark green hat on the other side of the tables. White cream was poorly smeared on his face. His tomato skin couldn't handle too much sun.
"Listen here! Attention!" They stood with backs tall and listened for his instructions. "What you have here are some assault rifles with bullets, along with all the necessary equipment you need. You must be wearing your goggles and vests at all times." He paused for a minute and stopped pacing. Suddenly, he spat, "Put them on now!"
All 50 cadets struggled to find a vest and goggles of their own. Kira pushed and shoved as she wrestled for her own. Why did they have to act like animals most of the time?
The officer blew his whistle, though the young cadets were unaffected in their fight for the equipment. "Attention! There's enough for everyone here. Settle down!" They paused with vests and goggles mid-air.
He scratched his chin. "No more than 10 at a time. Put on your equipment and form one single line! Leave the guns on the table."
Kira finished strapping her vest and snapped on her goggles. She frowned at the hot plastic burning into her forehead. Quickly she fell into line next to Sunny, who winked at her. Their backs were straight as they stared out into the range. The long wooden fence was divided into ten individual sections. Approximately 15 feet away were wooden human cutouts with red and white targets. Kira focused intensely on the targets. The first time she would get to use a real gun. Her heart raced and fingers tingled, nose twitching from excitement.
The officer sauntered to the far right and pointed menacingly at the first 10 cadets with a gruff voice. "Line up, lichinki! I'll walk you through the gun protocol."
Kira bit her lip. The first 10 hustled to grab an assault rifle from the table and find a spot to themselves. Desire to get started fueled inside. She struggled to contain it.
"Eager now, aren't we, Pajari?" Isa Avilov leaned forward to stare at Kira. Her golden hair was pulled into a tight ponytail, beauty mark playing on her cheek. "I don't know if I'd trust you with a gun. You seem a little too jumpy."
A million thoughts surged in Kira's mind. She could've shot back with a witty comment or lash out entirely. But any acknowledgment would give her the benefit of the doubt. Isa wouldn't get the satisfaction today.
Kira stayed silent while staring ahead. Her gaze fixated on the cadets harboring their rifles close to their chests. A symphony of shots pierced the air, drowning out in the background.
Isa tried to get her attention once more. "Hey, I'm talking to you, Pajari."
She didn't meet her gaze. "I know. I just don't care."
Sunny chuckled, his wavy hair flittering in the hot wind.
Isa pouted. "What are you laughing for, Seo-Joon?"
He turned to her. "Ease up, Avilov. Just mind your business and wait for your turn, okay?"
She rolled her eyes. "Why do you act like you're the boss? You're only a year older."
"Well, I'm not special or anything, but in terms of ranking, you do technically have to refer to me." He pointed to a blue and silver badge on his shirt, with pointed triangles and stripes. "I'm obviously nowhere close to Officer Bukin over there but hopefully someday."
"You just want to be bossy and not feel guilty about it."
Kira turned to meet Isa's intense eyes. "It's called being a leader, Avilov. But you wouldn't understand what that is, huh?"
Her cheeks puffed. Just as she was about to speak, Officer Bukin blew his whistle. "Alright! Next 10, get your asses over here!"
Kira looked down the line as the next group filed towards the table to grab a gun and found a spot near the fence. A small moan escaped her lips. She would be in the next group for sure, but this was becoming unbearable.
Sunny playfully nudged her shoulder. "Be patient, Kira. We'll be next."
"I just really want to get my hands on a gun."
Isa's high-pitched voice made Kira cringe. "Wow, maybe someone like you shouldn't be allowed to use a gun. You're crazy, Pajari."
Sunny glared back at her. "At least Kira can keep up in a fight. You always go down within the first two minutes."
"Ooh so defensive of your girlfriend!"
Kira's attention snapped away from the shooting range back to the conversation. Girlfriend? She spoke before Sunny could. "I'm not his girlfriend!"
His golden skin had a bright pink hue as he stuttered. "Y-yeah, it's not like that. We're friends, that's all."
Isa smirked. "Kira's blushing says otherwise." Kira grasped her cheek, turning away with a frown. "It makes sense. You two are almost opposites. Sunny does keep you in line."
Kira growled. "I'm my own person. Sunny is my friend. I'm done with this conversation."
Kira fixated on the next round of cadets as they took their positions. The goggles were melting into her forehead, so she moved them to hang freely from her neck. Heat radiated her body and she grew heavy. She picked up her canteen and downed a few gulps of water. The crispness stung with invigoration as she savored every drop. Trickles slid down her cheeks as she removed the canteen and wiped her lips.
All the sounds around her turned into white noise. The officer continued to yell while Sunny tried making more small talk. The cadets enthused about their shots while distant caws from vultures echoed above, looking for their next prey to feast on. The water helped to rid of her temporary fatigue, but she needed more. Excitement, chaos, anything.
A deafening whistle snapped her out of her thoughts. Steam was seeping from his nostrils like a wild bull. He looked Kira dead in the eye. "Next group, line up! I want you all front and center!"
Kira's body moved on its own. Her heartbeat a mile a minute. She stood in front of the table, eyeing the assault rifle in all its glimmering beauty. It had a sweet silver base with black butt and grip. Bukin's disembodied voice sounded over her, but she could hardly hear him over her rapid heart rate. "Now, the rifle's already been loaded. But take note of the different parts of the gun. You will not be learning how to load and unload these rifles, but it's especially important to know the different parts. You may use one of these someday." Officer Bukin smirked to himself as he stood near Kira's end of the white tables harboring the guns.
He continued, pointing to the thick rectangular shape on the bottom half of Kira's gun, near the trigger. "This part is the magazine. It holds all the bullets. When you load or unload the rifle, that is where the bullets will be held. When you're ready to fire, you pull the rod back into place." He pointed to a small trigger on the left-hand side.
"Now, listen very carefully to the next thing I say. These guns are all secured in the safety position. If you look near the rod, you'll see a dial with three settings: An X for the safety, a singular line to indicate few bullets shot in a short period, and three lines for rapid-fire." He grunted. "Grab the gun by the grip and leave it on the safety! Find a spot in front of the fence. Do not try to share with one another."
Kira gripped the rifle with a delicate firmness. Her heart continued to beat furiously beneath her ribcage. Even her steady breathing did nothing to ease her excitement. She began to maneuver around the table when she felt a weight on her shoulder. Had she not realized it was Sunny grabbing her attention, she would've hit on instinct. "Hey, just be careful, alright?"
Her nose scrunched up, feet tapping the ground in anticipation. "What do you mean?"
"You just... you seem to be enjoying yourself too much."
"Well, I am."
"Why? It's just practice."
"You know it's not just that."
Sunny's tight-lipped silence was shadowed by the birds' screeches. He patted her shoulder before securing himself in a spot to the right of her. From this distance, Kira could see a few bullet holes in her target. None of the holes on her target were even close to the bullseye. She smirked happily.
Officer Bukin's gruff tone nearly pulled a groan from her mouth. "Now, cadets, I want you to switch the dial from the safety to the single." In unison, they all switched. "Hold the grip with your dominant hand. Whichever hand you don't use for the grip is your off-hand. Use this off-hand to hold the forestock, which is the barrel area covered in the black plastic. Bring the butt of the gun to the front of your shoulder, between roughly your chest muscle and the ball of your shoulder." She did so, feeling slight discomfort in the position. "If this feels unnatural, feel free to adjust in any way to feel more at ease. Do this until you feel comfortable."
Kira pulled the rifle upwards a little so that the butt was floating higher near her shoulder. That felt much better to her. Her breaths were slow and shallow. She aimed the tip of the rifle and looked straight down the top of the barrel. The cold metal soothed her boiling skin.
"Now, make sure you keep your guns pointed forward and away from you. Whichever side of the gun is facing you, you'll want to pull that firmly against your cheek below your cheekbone." She pressed it close. Her heartbeat skipped in an unpredictable, unsteady rhythm. "Now, focus on the front sight. You see that small line in the hole when you look through to the target? You want that to be in the six o'clock position."
Kira centered the target in her sight. Breaths came quicker as her heartbeat rapidly, picturing the enemy quivering before her. She felt powerful.
"Steady, hold your aim." There was a pause as she stood there, gun in hand and ready.
The screeches joined in a horrendous melody, carried in the hot wind that beat against her goggles. "Fire!"
Kira held her breath. She pulled the trigger. Even with the noise-canceling headphones, her ears rang from the muffled shot. Her body pulsed vigorously. She had only shot once but she soaked up every millisecond.
Officer Bukin shouted. "Practice some more shots. Find a rhythm that works for you. If you're having difficulty with accuracy, trying shooting in rhythm with your breathing cycle."
Kira kept her eyes on the target. She frowned after noticing she hadn't hit the bullseye. She breathed out and held it in. Bam! Breathe out.
Breathe in. Hold. Bam! Breathe out.
She was a machine, operating on a system that came naturally to her. She didn't think, hardly blinked and breathed only faint, shallow breaths to maintain her accuracy. Her body hissed, imagining all the possible scenarios where she would get to use a weapon against someone.
A sudden sharp pain in her left calf. As if someone had dug a hole with a knife and lit it on fire. Or a wasp that stung her over a thousand times. The rifle slipped from hands and swiftly hit the dirt. Thankfully, it didn't go off.
Kira cried out and fell to the ground, squeezing her eyes shut. Her heart was pumping violently, mind going blank. Something was wrong.
"Kira!" Sunny removed his goggles and knelt next to her. She grit her teeth and fought the swelling tears.
As she opened her eyes, she looked down at her leg. Crimson blood tainted her skin as it slowly dripped. There was a small hole where the bullet had entered.
She looked up. Other cadets had crowded around to see the commotion. Isa's striking blue eyes were shot with fear, letting her gun slip from her fingertips. Her voice was faint. "It was an accident."
Officer Bukin loomed over Isa and grabbed her tightly by the shoulder. "I think that's enough for you Avilov. Get back in line." He turned to Kira. "We need to get you to the infirmary, now." He picked up a two-way radio from his waist and called for a car. The shooting range was a good distance from the rest of the academy, there was no way she could walk there on foot.
Kira's eyes darted in different directions, unsure of what to focus on. Confusion and pain settled over her. A heavy weight settled over her. She took deeper breaths to keep her mind from wandering too far. It was unbearable. A type of hell she had never once experienced before, and she knew she'd remember it for a while.
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