Commander's office, Command HQ, two days later.

'Well, that's about it, Zell. Doesn't look like you've put a foot wrong in the past few ops, virtually every report I had from Galbadia is glowing with praise,' Squall said.

The debriefing process had been completed, and due to the sensitive nature of the mission, Squall had requested Zell go over the reports in detail. They had done that for the past hour.

'Makes a nice change from the Krastovians.'

'Same here. Frankly, I'm wondering if it's worth trying to help Krastovia when the loyalist militias get territorial when anyone from outside comes to give support. But that's not what we're here for. You've pretty much earned a break-'

'And I don't need it,' Zell tried, but Squall kept going.

'And I know you'd refuse without medical orders to that effect, so, I'm cheating and assigning you something that might as well be a break,' Squall said, a somewhat sinister grin forming on his face.

'...Oh shit.'

'Yes, oh shit. You're going back to school, Captain. And not just showing up to lead a squad of Examstroops on the field exam exercise, this time. You're taking one through prelims before they're handed over to NCOs. Your platoon's supplying two additional LTs for the other classes, and Lieutenant Jackson will take control of your platoon in you absence. He will then take three officer candidates out to North Mountain base with the platoon and see if they can graduate. Plus, I have a request here from the Forceman Almeis. Says he'd like to be assigned as your company forceman seeing as you currently don't have one. Any objections?' The commander asked

'Not to the last two parts, but maybe the first part. I don't know my way around Garden Central HQ,' Zell tried, weakly.

'You can steal one of the maps they give the Primary Ones. It's what I did when I was there.'


New Balamb Garden Central Headquarters, the next morning.

Where the old garden had accommodated both qualified SeeD and trainee alike, the new only held a few SeeD operators, and of course, the faculty staff of instructors. NBGCHQ, or simply Garden to most students and New Garden to some students of the old one, was a vast campus of two-floor buildings and the three-floor main building, arranged in an oval around a central park that served as a playground and housed some of the outdoor sporting facilities. It had three levels of education: primary, secondary, and the SeeD candidates. Primary and Secondary numbers were about the same, seven years of primary education and four of secondary, with six classes of thirty students at each level. It meant, not counting SeeD Candidates, almost two thousand students were on or attended campus to undergo education.

A New Garden student underwent a standard education from the ages of four to fifteen, with classes in self defence taught to those over ten. A student sat primary education from four to eleven, then high school education at eleven to fifteen. A SeeD student sat the same sort of exams a student at, say, Junison City High School, would sit, but instead of then immediately going into the job market or university, or going onto years five and six of high school, a SeeD student would then naturally move onto being a paid and ranked SeeD recruit. A SeeD student did not have to achieve any particular grades to proceed to training, and of course had the option of not going onto it and simply dropping out, using the fact they had attended a prestigious military academy as a key point of future CV's.

However, at the age of 13, a student could skip exams and apply to undertake training instead of completing high school, known as dropping up. This generally meant that for every gap that emerged in a training group, either from those who dropped out in primary, in high school, or even had dropped up in previous years, a balance emerged to form at least four classes of candidates who then went on to take three years of training.

Starting at a rank and pay grade of Recruit Level 1 or R1 Recruits, they first earned the right to wear SeeDpat as a uniform. However, they were required at all times to wear bright green armbands with yellow edges and berets in the same colour scheme, they carried no insignia, markings, or even name tapes. However, most recruits took fierce pride in this first step. As R1s, they went through three months of basic training, covering over twelve weeks the use of standard weapons, tactics, survival skills, and above all, how to work and fight as a team. For this, they were paid five hundred Gil a month and were technically the lowest ranked persons in SeeD.

They then moved up a grade, and swapped their berets and armbands over for new ones in Light Blue, indicating they sat Advanced Training at the rank of R2 Trainee. This brought an extra hundred Gil a month as well as the right to a name tape on the left breast pocket of their uniform shirts. After this was done, the next six months were either optional specialist training, or a gap.

Those who took the second option could do what they liked, earning six hundred a month all the same. Those who took the first picked up to six months of basic training in a range of subjects. Choosing from two month courses in operating as a crewman on a vehicle but not actually as a driver, or just a two month course to earn a Balamb-legal driver's licence. Other two month courses were medic training, sapper training, or mechanic training.

Shorter courses in Close Quarters Combat or operation of heavy weapons, including sniper rifles, took a month, a CQC course covering a fighting style a month, armed or unarmed, and heavy weapons covering the operation of a class of weapon in a month. Longer courses occurred for helicopter piloting and Ship/Aircraft crew: three months. The longest of all was Aircraft Pilot training, where one learned how to fly most types of aircraft, including helicopters. A similar course for ship piloting existed, but few who were not already in the naval detachment took it. Some of these roles required further training; some of them were full courses that earned a pay bonus.

These courses could be sat even by an active SeeD operator who had not already done them. Those who had, could then move onto advanced courses in those fields and actually become those specialists proper for those courses that could not be finished as trainees. For example, a Medic could then train as a doctor, then as a surgeon. However, surgeons had to be officers, lieutenant at least, and could not become Forcemen, Special Forces, or CRW operators.

At the same stage when the optional specialisations were selected, the trainees were screened for comparability with Guardian Forces, using the Odine Scale of Compatibility. Those who scored over seven hundred out of a thousand points with a free GF were offered the chance to become Forcemen, and take six months learning how to control their GF. Only two out of twenty SeeD trainees received this offer on average, only one in ten took it.

Then those who had taken the specialist skills had a gap and were promoted in pay grade, but not actual rank, to R3 Candidate. Those coming back from their gap had to take specialist skills. This meant by the middle of the second year, each candidate was at the same stage, and they then all officially were R3 Candidates in rank, pay and uniform: class insignia could be selected by a vote and worn on the left arm.

Then, after another six months learning vital skills all SeeD would need, and refining skills learnt before, the second year ended. Then came nine months as the last of the Recruit ranks, R4 Examstroop. Permitted now to wear their first rank insignia, a red-edged green roundel and a cap badge depicting a red sword, the ultimate goal was the SeeD written and Field exams. A modern field exam could be taken without passing a written exam, though to begin active service those who did fail would have a limitless number of attempts to get it right before actually becoming Non-Commissioned Grade 1 Privates. Three exams took place over the summer, and those who passed the field exam on any of the first, second, or final attempts became SeeD's, NC1 Privates. Many then spent six months polishing up specialist skills.

Balamb Garden only produced three platoon's worth of new SeeD a year. Roughly thirty students failed the exams at every possible attempt, and therefore failed to become SeeD operators. Most of them however found employment either in the Balamb Defence Force or SeeD's support staff.

For most, the next stage was the specialist skills requiring selection. Perhaps the elite unit of Counter-Revolutionary warfare, where a person straight from an exam could be trained to be the better of any police SWAT team and some national counter-terrorist units. Comprised of only eighty men and women in five platoons of five four-man fire teams named "elements" at any one time, they were trained in explosive entry skills, urban combat, rappelling, fast-rope descent, and many other skills that could help them take their submachine guns into a building occupied by hostile gunmen and use said guns to eliminate those gunmen with minimum loss of life to hostages and the CRW unit. Many SeeD were qualified in CRW skills, but the small size of the unit meant many did a six month tour then moved on. It was a springboard skill to the elusive and legendary Special Forces selection process, along with Airborne training, Close Quarters Combat, and four years service as an operator.

There were also the Sniper Schools, either as members of sniper teams of two or as designated marksmen inside a squad. The difference was, that a sniper trained alongside a partner and trained on a variety of sniper rifles. A marksman trained alone in the use of accurised assault and battle rifles as either spotter or shooter, any marksman able to perform the task his or herself if need be. Snipers however, now always worked in pairs in SeeD, one a dedicated shooter, the least skilled of the two a spotter, though often difference in skill was decided by the smallest of fractions with SeeD snipers. Even Marksmen, though independent if need be, formed shorter ranged sniper teams, one spotting, one shooting.

After a year's service, one could apply for the airborne. Trained further in helicopter insertions, including some skills shared with CRW, they also chased the "jump wings" of the paratroopers, the fearless elite who hurled themselves out of planes to descent gently to earth under a cloth parachute, and more often than not a hail of fire.

After the four years and all the necessary specialist skills, many SeeD's underwent the gruelling year-long selection for Special Forces, where their skills were refined in one of the toughest courses in the world. Of three hundred candidates annually, only twelve passed on average, only fifty reaching the last hurdle of Escape and Evasion, a week-long attempt to evade a hunter force of fully-equipped Airborne wearing nothing but thin khaki uniforms, heavy green greatcoats and unlaced boots.

They were equipped with only a map, compass, and one dim torch between four, only ever getting food and instructions if they made a meet with an examiner at an appointed time at an appointed grid reference. Those caught on the first day failed and returned to their previous position. Anyone caught then was interrogated for the remainder of the exercise. A missed RV meant no food and no instructions for that day and the rest of the exercise. This was where many failed, breaking under the regular interrogations and mild torture. Any who evaded the hunters passed by default. Those who failed got one more try to do the whole year again.

Such a tough regime did separate the wheat from the chaff, but also produced serious injury and even death: no less than five had died in the eight years Special Forces had existed and underwent a selection process, a total of fifty three having been killed during selection, twenty being permanently crippled or maimed, including one dark year five years ago during which thirty had somehow passed, including Seifer, but ten had died and twelve had been rendered unfit for duty as active SeeDs.

At the age of twenty-five however, one could try to become an instructor. Those who passed what was undeniably the easiest of the four (five if one counted the Forcemen) specialist skills involving a selection process of sorts then earned the right to teach at Balamb or Trabia's modern education facilities.

However, Zell had only ever done CRW, Close Quarters, and Airborne. Never had he became an instructor. This didn't mean he was useless as an assistant: the exams were coming, and his task was to lead a squad of Examstroops through their field prelims and then their actual exams, helping the instructor.

In this case, the instructor was Staff Sergeant-Instructor Quistis Trepe. She had in fact been his instructor in his last two years of SeeD training prior to the new system, and now, he outranked her. She had been an instructor for the past ten years, the grandfather clause in the shake-up meaning that despite being underage by six years she merely needed to pass selection as an instructor again. Along the way, she had picked up a few specialisations, including CRW, Airborne, and even a failed attempt at Special Forces five years ago which only was failed due to a fall down a cliff that resulted in a broken leg on the second day and an easy capture the next. Seifer had fallen down the same cliff and, it emerged, had broken an arm and his ankle yet evaded capture for the remaining time.

However, Zell was currently a little confused. As he had said in Squall's office the day prior, he had never actually been to this SeeD facility, and had only ever led Examstroops as a sergeant during their actual field exams, more often than not an exercise on Sallisbander Plains against a Balamb Defence Force supplied OPFOR, and he was currently in the min building trying to find someone who could tell him what building Room E45 was in.

The main building sat on the site of the original garden's front entrance, and was itself the rough size of the older garden. Housing the assembly halls for all three types of student on campus as well as some classrooms, the administration offices including the offices of the Dean and the three heads of Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary education. It also housed the main medical section, the communications hub, the access to the rooftop helipad, and the largest cafeteria as well the main library, which occupied most of the third floor, and the entrance to the basement motor pool, it was the only three floor building in the base. It took up the ground space occupied by three of any other building.

Three dorm buildings that housed up to seven hundred and fifty students, plus the entire teaching staff and on-site security and non-teaching staff, lay north of the man building, and to their north, the larger sports fields. To the east, five buildings were spread around the edge of the oval between the main building and the dorms, two classrooms in the northeast and southeast, with a firearms and weapons range in the middle. To the west, the same, but with a gym hall instead, as these four classroom buildings housed the primary schools.

Zell eventually found the Dean himself. Brian Simpson was a Colonel, though technically as he had never passed a SeeD exam was just a high-ranking teacher, and was in charge of the entire facility. The heads of the three levels of education reported to him, and he reported only to the two Generals and the Commander. Here, his word was law, and he was who decided on the rules of the school. However, he had been a teacher all his life, recruited by Cid Kramer when SeeD were established from a school in Balamb, and though he had taken some military training, he was strictly a desk worker. However, the overweight, balding, greying forty-eight year old veteran teacher was a likeable man even if he had the habit of seemingly everyone in command of educational facilities the world over of wearing garish ties with his suits. He put younger students at ease and was on first name terms with most older students. He had an annoying habit though, of being a little star-struck when encountering famous of infamous SeeD operators.

'Captain Dincht! Welcome to New Balamb Garden!' the head of the facility boomed when he found Zell wandering the first floor lost. Zell was a little surprised by this, having never been to this place, and having last seen Simpson when the semi-honorary colonel had taught language skills thirteen years before. Zell saluted on instinct as the dean extended his right arm in an attempted handshake. Both seemed a little puzzled for a second, then ironically swapped positions. The dean laughed as he saluted, and quickly shook Zell's hand before they did something else ridiculous in merely trying to say hello.

'Pleasure to be here, Sir,' Zell said, ignoring the faux pas a few seconds before.

'Please, captain, you can call me Brian, or Dean if you must. You're not a student, and I'm not your superior officer. I'm technically a civilian.'

'True, but we call civilians sir or ma'am.'

'Good point, Captain, but I would rather you called me Dean or Brian. Not sir, and especially not ma'am,' the older man joked.

'I believe I'm meant to be working alongside Staff Sergeant Trepe?'

'Indeed. Follow me; she's currently taking a class through last minute revision. Written exams this afternoon. Half one to half four. They need all the preparation they can get.'

'I don't know, sir, I managed to pass and I spent half my revision period goofing off in the library.'

Simpson laughed, and responded.

'Yes, Captain, but they've somewhat changed the subjects of questions since then....


In a classroom, a blonde instructor stood in the SeeD dress uniform before a projector. Light glimmered off her glasses, as she summoned the image of a rifle onto the screen with a remote pointer. Zell and the Dean had entered from the back, ignored by all as they sat down.

'The GMR11 Assault Rifle is a bullpup five point sixty five by forty four millimetre assault rifle. It's a smaller round than the previous eight point twenty by fifty round Galbadia used until the GMR11 entered service twenty years ago. Your questions on weapons recognition are unlikely to go over ground like naming and identifying her and her variants,' she said, pausing for a moment. 'But your questions on the politics or military experiences of various nations might cover this. For example, why did the Galbadians took a smaller round as well as a shorter rifle? What reasons did they have to swap out the GMR10?'

A hand shot up. Quistis selected one seemingly at random.

'The GMR11 was optimised for the more close quarters role Galbadian forces expected to encounter following their experiences in the invasion of Timber where they found that their long rifles were too bulky for prolonged woodland and jungle fighting and that submachine guns and carbines were more useful. The smaller round was selected to reduce the recoil of firing in full auto to make the weapon easier to handle and more accurate. The length of the overall profile of the gun reduces the portion of the gun forward of the grip to a length equivalent to the GMR10K, but the bullpup configuration allows the barrel length to remain roughly the same as the full length GMR10 Rifle,' the boy said.

'Does that kid have a textbook there?' Zell asked the Dean.

'Probably not, Captain. These Examstroops have been revising flat out for the past few weeks.'

'I wouldn't have been able to say half of the stuff he just did and I saw the damn things being used in the "more close quarters" roles he means.'

The dean simply chuckled.


Later on that evening, Zell was speaking with Quistis with regards to the upcoming task at hand, after getting the pleasantries of meeting an old friend out of the way. Zell was in her office, talking to the instructor regarding the students in the Examstroop platoon.

'Who was that kid who threw the manual at you when you asked about the GMR11?' Zell enquired.

'That was Henry Mitchell. Good student. A's in virtually every subject and test with one exception. Has some trouble as a team player though.'

'What? Distant, afraid if he gets attached to anyone...' he began responding, but she cut him off with a shake of her head before he could reach "ignores it when his instructor clearly has the hots for him" or any further references that could annoy the blonde teacher. Or had the other man been present, his Commander.

'Not quite. He's just too absorbed in the education aspect of it. He's the kind of guy they'd call a nerd at a normal school. Reads Weapons Monthly-' she attempted to say, but was interrupted.

'Nothing wrong with that. I only stopped because they started doing fucking tanks. Tanks, Quistis. I want to read about some new hunting rifles, and instead I get a five page spread about a goddamn tank,' he ranted.

'...Will you let me finish, Captain Dincht? This is information important to your mission,' she responded, a faint hint of sarcasm evident.

'By all means, continue, Sergeant.'

'Anyway, when the other students go into town to hit the arcades or whatever, he sits in his quarters, on the infonet, reading up on world events or looking at gun info. We checked it out: Every other student has at least once tried to access something like a porn site, but not him. We were expecting to find some interesting stuff from him, but all we found searching his history was that he'd hung about on forums arguing with people all over the world the merits of automated systems versus an extra crewman to operate it.'

'Wait a minute; you checked the browse history of every student? Why?' Zell asked, puzzled and somewhat disturbed at this breach of privacy

'Spy scare. Turned out a year seven girl in primary education had unwittingly downloaded a backdoor unlocker program from a website on her favourite cartoon,' she responded, either ignoring or not seeing the alarm in his eyes at the revelation she and the faculty had begun spying on the students.

'What cartoon?' he said, attempting once more to rile the Sergeant-Instructor.

'Does it matter, Zell? It was some weird Estharian one, one of the ones with the little balls they throw and a guy who breathes fire or some fuckin' pony that shoots lighting out its ass comes out. Stop sidetracking me here!'

'I'm sorry; it's my job to interfere with the briefing for as long as possible when I'm not giving it.'

'If you ask me that line about exploding heads when I ask you if you've got any questions, I swear I'll organise a training accident for you. Now shut up and listen.'

'Go on,' he conceded.

'So, he geeks out on info, doesn't even do the nice normal teenage thing of looking at naked girls... Or guys... And he never questions an order. Even the stupid ones that he knows should be wrong. Take this one: an exercise last year, Simon Krugsman is playing our spy in the ranks of the blue team. Mitchell's squad has figured it out, and Krugsman orders them to go down a certain path. Mitchell's squad commander. He orders his squad to follow the order. Another recruit frags him in the exercise. Observer declares Mitchell dead. Squad sneaks past the ambush waiting. Doesn't even start anything. Both students get reprimanded, Mitchell for the orders thing, the other guy for murdering a CO, even though he ultimately did save the squad's lives.'

'Be honest, Quistis. How many times have you though about shooting a superior officer?'

'Pretty much every time I'm unlucky enough to meet up with you or Seifer again. Anyway, I'm meant to tell you what shape your platoon of trainees is in and. You can take four of the best into your command section... Why the hell am I telling you this crap, you've led a prelim platoon before.'

'I know that much. Run me by what sort of specialists there are again?'

'Out of your thirty students? Four marksmen, a gunblade specialist and three close quarters guys. Oh, and an explosives guy. Girl,' she corrected herself.

'I think I'll take the gunblade guy, the sapper, a marksman and that Mitchell kid. Unless he's a marksman too.'

'Nope, just a common or garden grunt. Albeit a jackass of a grunt. Word of warning, the sapper and gunblade guy don't get along right now. Gunblade boy, Donny Tazma, was dating sappergirl's twin sister.'

'Was. I see. She pissed at the fact he ditched her sister?'

'Actually, no, she's pissed he knocked her advances back after her sister ditched him. No other problems I can think of except that two of your marksmen will pretty much demand a certain person as their spotter. Elaine Downs will want her brother; John Harkness will want his girlfriend. Now take these damn files, piss off to your quarters, and let me mark these tests. I've gotten used to waking up early because unlike you dummies in the field I get to sleep in a nice warm bed every night. '

'Well, I suppose I had better get reading these files,' he said, leaving for the door. He paused, and turned to speak to the instructor.

'One last question though. Is it true there's a place on a man's head that if you shoot it...'

'Get out before you wake up in the infirmary, Zell Dincht!' came a shouted half laughter, half anger response, along with a pen ricocheting off the doorframe.

It really was just like being back at school, he though. He'd not lost his touch for annoying the instructors. Then he recalled that technically, he was one just now. And without the bonus pay for being an instructor, just a few hundred extra, but mercifully just for a few prelim exams.