His aim was off. That was unusual, but not terribly unexpected. It couldn't be blamed on the abnormally arid weather. How long had it been since he'd even held a rifle? Five years? Four? "Oh, shit man! You hit the target in the bloody head!" Exactly. He'd been aiming for the heart. Center of mass was always ideal when fighting against Zerglings. Heads were small, and with their speed were almost impossible to hit. And besides. Hard to miss at fifty feet. The loudspeaker clicked on. "Alright, John. Take a breather." An hour of practice each day should do it. It had taken about a month for John to master the DSR-75 Auto the first time around. And he was still relatively good at it. But there was more kickback than he remembered. He might have to get that checked out with the Hephaestus Engineering team. John placed the gun and extra ammunition on the gun rack he'd retrieved them from and started walking down the range, his new squadmate (Harold, was it?) close behind. "How is it they make these damn targets look so much like the marks?" It did look incredibly like a Zergling. They even bothered to include the wings, marked with large blue circles. It was accurate. Taking out the wings was about as good as excessive hemorrhaging in the torso, especially in the air. Harry turned to him. "Not much of a talker, eh?" John didn't look at him. "What's the point?" "Better to die hearing someone else die with you." A little dark. But that's what everyone turns into these days. How old could the boy be? Twenty-three? Twenty-four? And already fighting a war they could not win. Ziedler had yet to show John this secret weapon of his. John started pulling his target off of the frame holding it up. "I hear we're getting newbies today. Any idea who?" "A bunch of C3s mostly. I think the others are a C3, a C5A, a C11, a C13. They'll get here either today or tomorrow, depending on whether or not the flight's good." A bunch of dark gods, a water god, and a love god. Wonderful. John's confidence just soared. "Hephaestus Branch has the brooches ready, right?" The kid scoffed, as if John had called him a moron. "'Course we got them ready. Second we heard rumors that we had a love champion coming in we got to production." Harold tore his Zergling off, neglecting any portions he'd missed and instead grabbing what he'd hit. Not a champion himself, as far as John knew. Definitely Blessed, though. He'd seen the kid walk through a wall of fire and withstand the atmosphere in an infested zone. Probably Hephaestus, if the fire said anything. But as of yet Harold hadn't displayed any sort of supernatural power beyond that. The boy was keenly observing both of the targets. Both were thoroughly riddled with holes, but somehow looked distinctly different. Harold's was random, his bullets sprayed from the barrel of his UMP. But many missed their mark or clattered against the plated portions that represented thicker segments of armor. Inaccurate. Ineffective. John's shots were precision and timed, taking out the major points marked on the target: Hearts, wings, limbs. And it was clear Harold was uncomfortable with that. "Fucking showoff." "Takes training to get this good, mate." Half-truth. In reality, John was naturally good at what he did. Too good. They hefted the thick cardboard and metal onto their backs. They got to the door leading back inside the compound and threw the targets into the recycling slot. John's com started buzzing. "Helicopter is entering the perimeter. Get to the helipad, John." "Copy that. Let's go." Fourteen soldiers armed to the teeth with the most up-to-date weaponry is a terrifying sight to most. John had insisted on making the newbies at least semi-comfortable when they arrived, but Ziedler had countered that their safety was the top priority. So here John stood, at the head of a squad of elite killers, waiting for his new students. The helicopter hovered over the landing pad. An American Black Hawk, if his experience counted for anything. John walked towards it, signaling for the pilot to cut the engine and open the doors after receiving the go-ahead from Harold. "People aren't as friendly with Champions and us Blessed as you might think," he'd said. Something to do with personal beliefs clashing with reality. Maybe people blamed the Champions for the Hatchings. And maybe, just maybe, there were some psychos who thought the Demonspawn were in the right here. All John knew was that there had been riots, and that a Champion had been killed during one of them. "Welcome to London. Make yourselves comfortable."