The next morning, Zell took the recruits though a familiarisation with the markers they would use. The SR2 replicas and S4 pistol replicas looked like the real ones apart from their green furniture. The SR2, a solid stocked rifle that fired the seven point ninety by fifty-one Dollet bullet, a heavy round that had poor accuracy in full automatic. It was a simple, plastic-furnished and milled steel rifle now no longer used by SeeD, but had been for the start of the organisation, the main weapon. Most that remained in the armouries had been converted to marksmen rifles or were used by Special Forces.

The S4 however was one of the newest SeeD handguns. Essentially identical to the Trabian P4 handgun, a modernised copy of the GP1911 handgun with a twelve round double stacked magazine.

The paintball versions, however, fed from paintballs wedged into the end of a brass casing, within which there was a pressured gas charge. When the rear of the casing was struck, the gas was released, hurling the paintball down a barrel specially designed to impart a rifling effect upon the paintball without bursting it. That made these markers more accurate than commercial ones, and also illegal for use by non-military personnel: The paintball round was classified as a bullet under Balambian firearms law which defined a bullet as anything that had a self-contained means of imparting energy into a projectile to be fired. Commercial Paintball weapons had to feed off bulky canisters of lower pressure which were regulated to fire at no faster than three hundred feet per second. Anything faster that weight and size became a potentially lethal projectile in Balamb's laws.

Zell had examples of each, their ammunition, and magazines on the table before the class. All of them listened intently. Quistis meanwhile was absent, planning the prelim for later.

'The SR2 is a rifle we stopped using ten years ago, but because it would cost too much to switch all the fake guns over to look like SR3's, and the fact we can't make a paintball cartridge small enough to really copy the SR3 or the S3 pistol, we still use this. None of you will have really fired this kind of thing before, so we're going to the range later. However, the S4 is different. We bought this as an issue forty-three GAP for officers, airborne, and Special Forces, and we also found it made a good base for a paintball handgun. Both replicas hold the same ammo capacity as the real one: Thirty for the rifle, twelve for the pistol. But these are both weapons you might never have fired the real versions of, so, we're going to go to the range as soon as.'

He then produced two canisters that looked similar. One white, one slightly smaller as well as black and each with a red band across the middle.

'Standard screening smoke,' he said, holding up the white grenade. 'Two minutes of smoke. Pull pin, and throw. Don't hold onto it, it heats up pretty damn fast, plus, it's no fun to catch a whiff from these as they're still igniting.'

He put it on the table, and held the other up.

'Training flash-bang. Bright flash, low decibel bang, as opposed to blinding flash and "oh fuck, my ears are bleeding" bang. Rule is, these go off within eight meters and without hard cover in the way, you're dead. Chances are, it'll stun you at the same time anyway.'

'Any questions before we go along to the range?' he asked. No one had any.


The rest of the day was spent on the range, firing off volleys of paintballs and undergoing a crash familiarisation course with the replica weapons. At about two PM, the four classes left for the prelim. Zell rode in a car with Quistis and a SeeD private.

'No clues about what I'm going to run into?' He asked.

'None at all,' she replied. 'But some advice. Keep a close eye on Mitchell. He's...'

'Not a team player, I know. I read your reports.'

Silence for a few moments as the column of trucks, cars, and four by fours rolled to the training site.

'I will give you one freebie, Zell.'

'What's that?

'You'd have trouble breaking through it with your own squad backing you up. I think that all the Examstroopers will go home tonight with a high body count.'

'Well, I aim to keep casualties as low as possible, and get the three objectives done. The other three classes, are not my problem.'

'Oh well. You'll like the other setups from a defence point of view. You'll love the one you're heading into,' she cackled.

'Quistis,' Zell replied. 'The day you can set a trap down that catches me completely is never going to come.'

The training site was a thirty acre area fenced off and used by SeeD for close-quarters exercises. One large cabin, and three smaller buildings made up the central compound. Surrounding it, were Balamb Ferns and Pine trees. Cover made from sandbags formed the walls, along with some brick walls near the cabin. A mock helicopter pad lay in a clearing near the cabin, and a damaged civilian helicopter sat on the pad, the paint-less metal rusted and flaking. The engine and rotors had been removed along with anything of real value, and wooden mock rotors had been put in place.

This was the objective area for the prelim. Lying at the furthest end of the site from the entrance, the team was expected to infiltrate the forests between them and the cabin. It was about three PM, and the exercise was scheduled to start in one hour and end at eight . Quistis had command of a platoon of qualified SeeD for this task as the opposing force, or OPFOR. At three other bases, a platoon of Examstroops were also facing more experienced and already qualified soldiers, many of them with some battlefield experience. That was why veteran officers led the Examstroops. Training could level off against experience if the experienced soldier was the kind one found in Krastovia, Dishagoum, or the conscript armies of the world. One who had survived once, twice, three times or more, and learned from the deaths of comrades as opposed to exercises. When that soldier had both, it got tricky. Training developed half a sixth sense. Reality put the other half into place.

Zell stood at the entrance of the base, the squad sitting on the ground before him as he held a paintball marker built to resemble an SR2 Rifle.

'All right, listen up. These might be paintball markers, and it might not really kill you, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea to get shot. Any of you ever played a game like it at a commercial site? Well, these ones shoot harder. They're more accurate, and have better range than what you hire in those places. Plus, there's no such thing as an engagement distance. Even at the full fifty meters, this is going to sting. So anyone thinking the armour's being handed out for pussies, well, take a look at the bruises tomorrow and tell me what your opinions are. Any questions before I start going over the plan?'

'How much does it hurt?' Tamza, the gunblade specialist asked.

'Would you like to see?'

The recruit shrugged, and stood up.

'Walk about twenty paces away from me, then turn and look with the mask on. And your armour, I hope.'

The recruit did so. The second he did so, Zell drew the pistol from his holster and shot the recruit in the chest with a paintball. The boy fell backwards in surprise at the sudden impact.

'That's why we sometimes call it painball,' Zell said as the recruit picked himself up, wheezing.

'Anyway, you all know the score. SR2 marker, thirty rounds per magazine, seven mil paintball bullet. Each brass casing has enough Carbon Dioxide gas in it to propel the ball about sixty meters max, but recommended range is fifty. S4 pistol, twelve rounds, twenty five yard recommended, but it can sometimes reach out further. These can have suppressors and the slide locked, so remember that. You should all have seven rifle mags, five pistol mags, a rubber knife, a suppressor plus your safety kit and radios. Pick out your complement of flash and smoke grenades however you see fit. Go kit up and we'll cover the plan.'

The safety masks somewhat resembled the SeeD issue gas mask, an adjustable rubberised mask with a mock filter and a single reinforced anti-fog lens making the user resemble a Cyclops. The safety helmets were in fact just issue SeeD Mark 4 Flak Covers, the same used by line infantry. Soon after, the class returned.

'All right, there are ten possible routes in. We all split into our separate elements and move forward with sidearms on point. We take out the enemy with stealth until we're seen, and then we just rock and roll. We charge using shoot and scoot methods: one element covers the advancing one, then, the one that moves forward lays down fire for the next to move up. Check your targets before firing; I don't want any blue on blues today just like you won’t want them for real.'


It was expected to take at least two hours to reach the cabin and get back normally. In this case, the recruits sitting this prelim made good time. Four of the SeeD operators forming the OPFOR patrolling the woods found themselves blunder into a crossfire between two fire teams.

Zell's command group was furthest in, having set up a small observation post about halfway to the cabin, observing the movements of a large number of OPFOR. They also observed, in the distance in the woods, machine gun nests. Those would be an SR2 Paintball replica inside the case of some form of general purpose machine gun, feeding from a belt of the brass casings and rubber bullets the SeeD teams were using. What made them so nasty was, they could go full auto.

Each gun had two operators, plus three SeeD troops milling about towards the front of the sandbag positions.

'Sir, I have a suggestion to get past the machine guns,' Tazma said.

'What's that?'

'We bring everyone up, and have some people sneak in behind each nest. Then, the front teams pop up; pour fire on the guys milling about at the front. Meanwhile, the teams behind take the guns, and hit the defenders as they move forward.'

'Sounds good to me. If it works.'


Zell's team sprang up, forty meters from a machine gun. They opened fire with the rifles, then quickly dropped back down. At the other nests, the same occurred, but two recruits were hit as the defenders returned fire. A few seconds later, the machine gun nests opened up, firing at the OPFOR SeeD operators in all but one case. At that nest, the team snaking behind had been spotted, and suffered for it when the defenders there took all four out of the fight. The remaining SeeD now had a five-strong team, dug in behind the sandbags and with a machine gun to deal with.

The attackers threw down a thick blanket of smoke, and the SeeD OPFOR simply waited. Though as the smoke grenades landed ever closer, they began firing random bursts into the forest, as well as lobbing their own grenades.

'Alright, hit them with a pincer. Teams two and three, left and right. My team, down the middle!' Zell radioed in. The Examstroops charged, the machine gun firing bursts as more grenades were hurled outwards. They managed to escape causalities, only one recruit getting a grenade go off at his feet and stun him, just as three shots from the MG knocked him over. The class hurled their own grenades at the sandbag bunker, and they went off almost on impact. The nest was taken care of.

'What's our plan now?'

'Move fast, full frontal assault! One element moves forward as the other covers. Watch your flanks.'

They did this, recruits running from tree to tree as cover, then taking aim at where the hostiles might come from. Doing this, the SeeD OPFOR charging from the cabin area found themselves running into the fire from the covering teams. It meant those charging down soon found themselves with burst paintballs coating their chests.

The cabin, however, was defended by more machine guns. Three either side, plus the various remaining OPFOR soldiers. The solution was simply to charge as before, using cover to absorb the enemy fire as the covering fire pinned or eliminated the defenders. Grenades were hurled as soon as teams moved forward, taking out one MG site. This sudden assault, moving at ferocious speed, soon overwhelmed the defenders, and just before six PM, the objectives were all met. A recruit stormed into the room where Quistis and two other SeeD were, firing three shots and eliminating the "commander" of the base. However, he was simultaneously shot by Quistis. The helicopter had a grenade hurled into it, destroying it. In the three other cabins, smoke was thrown in, driving out a few OPFOR. They were all shot as they exited. The recruits, victorious, had some teams search for a laptop as the rest secured the perimeter.

'Less than two hours. Good work Zell,' Quistis said, a paintball stain on her armour as he walked into the room.

'Is the perimeter secure?' he asked into the radios. The various affirmatives came back.

'Keep them peeled, folks,' he finished, and looked at Quistis

'Thought you said I'd love this one? Not been anything I'd really expect from this one with paintball markers.'

'Well, you have to get the laptop back...'

An explosion from a grenade outside. Zell raced out, to find his troops taking cover as four machine guns poured fire in, and about a dozen OPFOR charged in. Zell fired on the move, taking out three charging attackers before diving behind a wall.

'Grenades, over the wall, now!' he yelled. The recruits hurled them as one thrown by the attackers flew overhead, landing too far away to count as a kill.

The recruit's grenades, however, caused the attackers to scatter, allowing a quick jump up to fire. Another six attackers found themselves shot as the grenades went off. The machineguns opened up just as the recruits all ducked.

'Smokescreen, over the wall, and then us when it's thick enough. Fire blind at the machineguns, and we're just going to charge back. We're bound to run into something else though.'

The recruits nodded, and complied. The random bursts resulted in three yelps of pain, and as the recruits charged out, they found the last machine-gunner. They concentrated fire on him as he tried to fire.

'Can we take the guns from them, sir?' Mitchell asked.

'I don't see why not. Four people good with support weapons, grab them. Good idea, Mitchell.'


As the SeeD recruits played wargames, men entered cars across the country. Some had been here for years, some had been here mere months. Most had been sent in, thinking their mission was to be fought by their cell and their cell alone, and had only learned of the other attacks planned the day before. Some still thought their attack was the only assault. Few were under any illusions. Death was the most likely outcome for many of them, but they would take many with them if they could help it.


On the ride back to base, Quistis was slightly annoyed.

'That was supposed to be hard! You weren't meant to take us out in two hours, then get back to the starting zone in half an hour. And who the fuck came up with taking the MGs that hadn't been blown up??'

'Guess,' Zell replied.

'It was Tazma, wasn't it? That little...'

'It was Mitchell, actually.'

'Oh? It doesn't matter. What does matter is, you finished the prelim in two and a half hours! The other classes haven't even reached their objectives yet. '

'Well, maybe we have a good class here. It's a good thing we don't get much chance for real-deal field exams like I had.'

'That is a good thing. Everyone who passed those is either dead, psychotic, or an officer now,' she muttered.

'Not true. Selphie was always crazy. Plus, Nida's still only a Helmsman, and he's not nuts.'

'He's part of the Navy group and he thinks the Leviathan is the same as driving his two-door hatchback. I think he is.'

'You have a point,' Zell conceded.


On an isolated country road, a grubby red van swerved to avoid a car that sped by suddenly as the vehicle drove out to turn too soon. The other driver honked his horn angrily, and the nervous driver put his vehicle in reverse gear. A roar form the gearbox made him quickly fix the mistake.

The whoop of the sirens made the man freeze. He slammed the brakes, despite admonishment from his comrades in the van. One opened the door, leaning out with an assault rifle. What he saw was a police four by four, followed by two vans. He fired on the four by four, one bullet hitting the front radiator grill to no effect. Then his gun jammed.

Before the driver could even respond, the four by four had zoomed past and blocked the road. Armed officers leapt from the police vans, surrounding the vehicle.

It was just plain luck these five men had blundered into an armed police convoy returning from a high risk arrest in the countryside. The city Police often sent armed officers to support the countryside forces where needed, and this one, a farmer who was known to hold numerous firearms licences and suspected of being the head of a significant drugs ring, had needed their assistance.

The masks each man carried, and the fact these men had only rifles, meant the police though they had foiled a bank robbery. They had only disrupted a very small part of a large plan.


'Alright, everyone go get something to eat quickly from the canteen in building five, then head to Debriefing Room Five-Alpha. We'll go over the prelim there,' Quistis shouted to the recruits. They soon drifted off into the school.

She turned, and looked at Zell.

'That means you too, Zell.'

'Fair enough,' he replied. 'But where the hell is this room? And where the hell's the mess hall near there?'

Quistis stared at him for a moment.

'You know what, never mind, follow me. I'll show you where they both are, and show you that it's a canteen, not a mess hall. I hope you only plan on getting sandwiches or something'

'Pretty much. I doubt the cafeteria staff have improved in ten years.'

'Well, the pizza's supposed to be okay. No Gilmour Pizzeria, but it's edible,' Quistis replied.

'That's what they said about Estharian ration packs,' Zell grumbled.


About half an hour later, at the main gates, a grubby white van neared. One man drove it, and he knew his task. The other vans were a few minutes behind him so as not to die with him as he completed his task. The four security patrolmen present followed the routine they did with every car or vehicle. They motioned him to stop, and he did. One neared the drivers side door as another watched over him. Two others stood in the control booth, alert for anything out of the ordinary. Nothing did seem unusual: late night deliveries occurred all the time. Judging by the graffiti daubed into the dirt on the side, this van had been to the school before, the patrolman thought

Before he even got to the vehicle, the engine revved, and the van ripped forward. As the four officers drew their weapons, it smashed through the security barriers. As the four men opened fire, the occupant of the van completed his mission prematurely. A bullet struck him, and his arm tensed, making him press the button he held. The trigger in his hand sent a signal to the detonators wedged into a mixture of explosives derived from ammonium nitrate fertilizer and also a few canisters of a crude incendiary gel that filled the back of the van.

The fireball alone blasted the gates apart, and incinerated a fifty metre area. The shockwave smashed glass for half a mile, and the debris and burning gel were hurled for up to a hundred meters from the centre of the blast. The original target had been inside the main building. But the plan went on.