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1400 Hours, October 12th, 2549, en route to Camp Currahee Mess Hall, Onyx

“It was an inspired plan Shep, but Katana was really on the ball today.” said Jay-G090 as he and the rest of Team Shoto staggered through Camp Currahee, heading for the mess hall. It was mid-morning and the sun was nearly full in the sky, casting short shadows on the ground and building a sweltering heat. The only cool places left was the mess hall and the barracks, the promise of lunch and a cool place was what had kept the team going on their walk back from the ‘Proving Grounds’, the companies catch-all term of the area’s Onyx dedicated to live combat training.

Shepard-G127 looked down at his hands, noting the few bruises coloring them, then back at his marksman. “If I had seen them coming round the right I would have been able to counter, but those upgraded SPI suits are even better than before.” he replied. “But nice job with the grenades, Jess.”

Jess-G134 smiled back, “You’d be surprised what I can do with a few flashbangs, some gaffer tap and length of string. Not my best master piece but it gets the job done.” As she said this the team entered the mess hall. It seemed like half the company was already here, which meant the food was about half gone too. Shoto moved quick as they could to the queue and got there food.

“Mm mash and sausage, my favourite.” grumbled Lance as the ‘food’ dropped down onto his plate. “If they are preparing us for those MREs then they are doing it well.” Most of the tables were slowly filling up but Shoto managed to find a slot big enough for the four of them.

For a while no one spoke, just forced their way through the meal that was on their plates. As he took another mouthful of questionable mash Shepard thought back to the recent exercise. His team had been put against Team Katana, rated as the second best squad in the company. They were hot on the heels of Sabre and were doing anything they could to catch up. Shepard had tried to use this to their advantage and had Lance and Jess set of few traps with their flashbangs while he and Jay had go ahead to draw them in.

Initially it had gone well, two of Katana’s members were taken down by the flashbang traps and Shoto’s training rifles. But then Jess and Lance got trapped in a ravine by the rest of Katana, Jay and Shepard had tried to get over to help them, but Katana was ready. A short firefight ensued that took two more of Katana’s fighters, but also Jay. In the end Shepard had to go toe-to-toe with Katana’s leader, Joey. Shepard had managed to fight him to a standstill and got a draw. Not a great victory, but Shepard would take it over a straight up loss.

“You were on form today Shep, you did have Joey on the ropes for a bit there.” said Lance as he finished off his food, “A little while longer and I think you could’ve had him.”

“It’s not going to go down well with him, though. Did you see Katana’s faces when the horn went off? They’ll be out for blood.” commented Jess.

“Especially now that the LC said that only the three best squads would be taken in for top honours. Tempers are running hot all over the camp. I get the feeling that something’s gonna give sometime.” said Lance.

“Well you guys know the drill, double-check your quarters and keep an eye on your gear.” replied Shep. “Maybe they’ll take out their righteous anger on Sabre.”

“Wouldn’t put too much faith in that plan Shep, they’re heading right this way.” said Jay, nodding at the approaching team. Shepard turned around and sure enough Katana was coming right at them, with Joey at the head. They all looked pissed in every sense of the word, all clenched fists, set jaws and that unblinking stare they were so fond of.

“Oh, Shepard!” yelled Joey as he walked over. He was close enough to make shouting pointless but Shepard knew it was just Joey pumping himself up. Everyone knew that Shep was one of the better close quarters fighters in the company, something that he hoped would work in his favour.

“There really is no need to shout.” replied Shep, trying to put on an even voice even as his insides got busy knotting themselves together. He may have been the best fighter but that wasn’t going to matter all that much against all of Katana, even with Shoto backing him up. Shep felt someone’s hand on his arm and saw Lance nod to him out of the corner of his eye. Good, Shoto was ready for anything.

“Shut up.” growled Joey. He stood over Shepard and was staring him right in the eyes, “You pulled some dirty moves back there, cost us a lot of points.” Shep stood up and looked back at Joey, his eyes floated past to the rest of the mess hall. Most of the teams had fallen silent and were watching intently as the two faced off. Mess hall fights were often a good relief for the young trainee’s and let you show off whose squad was best. A few whispered among each other, making predictions and bets, whilst some just watched.

Shepard looked Joey in the eye again and said, “If you have a problem with our conduct, you should take it up with the Lieutenant Commander.”

Joey’s eyes twitched for a second. “We did, he said that there was nothing wrong with it. So we decided to come down here to get you to admit it.”

“Admit to what, winning?” Shepard regretted that the moment the words left his mouth, but he couldn’t resist. The chance to put Joey down one didn’t come often. The comment really got to Joey, his body tensed and his eyes narrowed. Conflict was going to happen now, were either team wanted it or no. Luckily Shoto knew the protocol for this kind of situation, form up around each other and square off against the enemy until they back down or a fight starts. Sort of like when two wolf packs meet, each side assessing the other's strength and decides whether it is worth the fight. It was all part of the Unofficial Guide to Life as a Spartan-III Trainee as written by Alpha Company and passed down through Beta to Gamma.

Shepard slowly shook his head from side to side twice, the age-old Spartan Signal for Trouble Ahead. Though he couldn’t see them Shepard felt Shoto form up around him, Shepard just kept his eyes locked on Joey and to look away now would be a sign of weakness. What followed was a tense 30 seconds of stare down as the two teams checked out the other.

Suddenly Joey shot forward with a punch heading straight for Shep, who palmed the punch away and replied with a kick to the stomach. Joey stumbled back, however Joey’s footing had been off and so the kick had sent him back further than Shepard had hoped. He fell backwards onto Mary-G130. Her head went back into her half-finished plate of food, for a second she was still, then she let out a scream of rage and leapt on Joey. She threw a punch at him and then tried to punch again but Joey blocked and the two begun to grapple with one another. Both Katana and Jian ran to their teammate’s aid, with each trying to pull the two of them apart. Shoto just stood and watched.

“Was this the plan, Shep?” asked Jess as they watched the carnage.

“No, no it wasn’t!” replied Shepard, slightly stunned by what was happening. All of a sudden a Katana member launched a punch at Mary, but missed and hit Ralph-G299. Ralph was another Gamma known for getting into fights and the quick building rage on his face was testament to that. With a war cry of his own he abandoned trying to pry Mary and Joey apart and leapt on the nearest Katana.

Now a fight was well and truly on, with both teams having forgotten their initial idea in favour of attacking those closest to them. Joey and Mary continued to wrestle with one and other while Ralph took on two more of Katana. Jake, Jian’s leader, tried to get a sense of order in the fight but it was long past the chance to save it. Suddenly another two teams leapt into the fray, perhaps trying to break the others apart or wanting a piece of the action. Slowly like a fever other teams became dragged into the fight until the entire mess hall was alive with movement as trainee went at trainee.

Shepard stood dumbfound for a second as the mess that he had created whirled around him. The noise was almost deafening as the trainee’s shouted and struck one another, relieving the pent up stress they had all been feeling. His reverie was broken when Lance and Jay went hurtling past him, tangled with two other Spartan-IIIs. He didn't have time to see who it was as another trainee ran up to him, fist raised for his head.

Instinctively Shepard side stepped the blow and punched him back, palm to the solar plexus. The kid staggered back and Shepard backed up as well. His back thumped into something else. He turned his head to see Jess at his back, arms raised and ready to fend off some unseen attacker. Shepard didn’t have time to see as the spartan he had just struck came back again. This time with back up. Both of, the second on a girl, begun moving either side of him. Girl on left and boy on right.

“Jess, two, my side!” Shepard shouted through the cacophony. In reply Jess tapped on finger against his leg, one her side. “Ok, switchback!”

As Shepard yelled that he crouched and begun to turn towards Jess. As he did Jess leaned back and rolled over his flattened back. As she did she brought her foot down onto the girl on the left, cracking into her nose. She stumbled back backwards and was then tackled by another trainee. Jess then used the empty space to roll past the boy on the right.

As Jess rolled off his back Shepard rose back up again, facing Jess’s attacker. Who as it turned out was Dante-G188 from Team Saber. To his credit he wasn't all that surprised at the pair’s unorthodox maneuver and he sidestepped Shepard's punch to reply with his own blow, bringing his forearm into Shepard face. Shepard staggered back avoiding Dante's second attack. He then replied with a punch aimed at his head, which Dante instinctively ducked under. Quickly Shepard reversed the punch and brought his elbow down on the back of Dante's head. The blow reverberated painfully though Shepard's arm but it also forced Dante away.

As he was about to spin around to face Shepard again Dante was suddenly knocked to the side as three more Spartan's rolled past, trading blows as they went.

Quickly Shepard spun around to see that Jess was now wrestling with her other attacker. Shepard moved forward to finish him off when suddenly another figure barreled into him and sent the pair sliding across the floor. Though dazed Shepard had time to look up to see a fist aimed at his head and grab it in his own. As his vision cleared Shepard saw it was Joey who had tackled him. He had Shepard pinned to the floor and brought his second fist down and hit Shepard in the side of the head.

The blow was jarring and vibrated through his skull, causing his vision to blur. Through his hazy vision Shepard saw the fist come down again, sluggishly he moved his head to the side and he heard Joey cry out in pain as his knuckles cracked into the concrete. Shepard’s grip weakened on Joey other fist and he felt it slowly inch its way closer.

Suddenly he lost his grip altogether and the fist slammed down onto his chest, knocking the wind from his chest. Shepard coughed and look up again to see Joey about to bring his fist down onto his head again. As Shepard braced a hand reached from Joey back and grabbed him by the throat. The hand picked him up and cast him aside in one move.

As his vision cleared Shepard look up to see CPO Mendez standing above him, his usually grim face was a mask of rage and he stared down at the boy with wrathful eyes. Moving around him were other DIs, halting the fighting wherever it continued.

"What the hell is going on here cadet!?" barked Mendez, his voice like the crack of a whip.

Shepard just stared straight up at him, his sluggish mind trying to form some kind of answer. All the while the only sounds he could hear were the DIs herding everyone outside and Mendez's incredibly loud breathing.

As the seconds ticked by, Mendez begun to inhale for what Shepard knew would be an explosion of anger. But before the verbal lashing could ensue another figure appeared from behind Mendez and put a hand on his shoulder. It was Lieutenant Ambrose.

"It's alright Chief, I think I can take it from here. Though the other DIs outside could use your help."

Mendez looked back at Ambrose, then down at Shepard. He just grunted an acknowledgement and stomped off. The Lieutenant walked over to stand above Shepard.

"I want you with your team in my office in 5."

1421 Hours, October 12th, 2549, Camp Commandant's Office, Onyx

All four members of Shoto stood before Ambrose, each with their own set of injuries from the mess hall battle. Shepard's head was still swimming somewhat and there were a few bruises on his arms, Jay was sporting a nasty looking black eye, Lance's body was riddled with bruising and cuts while Jess had similar injuries to Shepard. Never the less they tried to keep their backs as straight as they could in the presence of their commanding officer.

"So, this is an interesting case isn't it. I don't often have you four in here for events like this"

Before he could carry on Shepard interrupted, "Sir, I take full responsibility for the incident. I shouldn't have provoked Joey."

Ambrose smiled at him. "You are quite right, you shouldn't have provoked him. However both teams are equally accountable for what happened. But that isn't why I wanted to talk to you four. I actually wanted to congratulate you."

Shepard's brow furrowed "Congratulate us, sir?" asked Lance.

"Yes, while this incident in the mess hall wasn't planned it still showed us plenty about how each team would work when dealing with a new environment. You reacted very well."

"With all due respect sir, we were working off instinct." replied Jess.

"Perhaps, but instincts are all you are going to have to work on when in a combat situation. As it stands, this rather impromptu test showed us a lot of what Gamma has to offer."

Shepard allowed himself a brief smile. Shoto had come a long way in the last few years and to hear this praise from Ambrose swelled his chest with pride. Before he could thank him Ambrose suddenly stood up.

"Now I believe Chief Mendez has a marathon he wants you to run." he said with a smile "Best not keep the man waiting."

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