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Aramis Anderson flinched as a bullet cracked past his head. That was a bit closer than he liked. He took the suggestion though, and rolled low past Elke Sykora. She fired again at one of the targets appearing through a doorway.

He returned the favor, gapping one just as it jumped into view, straight through the right eye.

"EGRESS!" he heard. That was Alex Marlow, team commander, and Aramis bounced forward to make a hole between two doorways. That put him squarely into view of another doorway, and he kept his weapon loose and ready.

Except that another figure popped past the window, firing as it went. He got it, but a bullet whizzed past him simultaneously. Behind him, four team members carried their civilian principal struggling and screaming out the front door. Elke shouted "Fireinthehole!"

His heart went schizo and tried to go two directions at once. If Elke was about to set off a charge, he needed to be outside, fast. He slipstepped back, feeling assorted debris under and around his feet, but he cleared the front doorway without trouble, and went into low zigzag. More bullets snapped past to bury themselves in the walls, as Bart and Jason provided cover fire around him.

Behind him he heard pop, pop, WHAM! and he guessed Elke had set a charge of smoke, incapacitance gas and explosive. Bits of something stung him like annoying insects, with an occasional numbing smack of something a little larger.

Alex said, "Flames. Call the fire department."

Elke shook her head. "No need."

A moment later another explosion blew the flames out. Whatever gases it released effectively cut off oxygen, and the smolders from her first shot drifted away in the breeze.

It was always a tremendous rush to do a live fire drill. It was also phenomenal training, an incredible team building technique, and fun. He wished they'd had time when they first met. He'd have started off a lot better with Elke. By the time they started these drills, he already knew the woman could shoot, and was an explosives whiz. He regretted the way he'd talked down to her at the time. She didn't seem to hold a grudge, though. And, if she wasn't going to mention the bullet he'd put centimeters past her ear, he wasn't going to mention the one she'd put past his.

Their "principal" was also their company CEO, who pushed up from the dirt he was lying in. The screams had been acting for effect. He was completely calm now, which most people would not be after six heavily armed troops shot up the kidnappers around them and blew the building up.

"That was sexy," he said with a grin. "And very, very smooth. I'll be sure to find more work for you."

They shook hands all around, smiling. Aramis felt a load lift.

That was, until Shaman Mbuto, the team's surgeon said, "You appear to have a nick here, Aramis."

He twisted to look at his shoulder. Sure enough, he had a streak on the fabric, and he could feel a bruise underneath, tender to the exploratory probing. It was gel, not a real bullet, but it still counted as a hit. On the other hand, a few scrapes and dings were inevitable, and he'd had a lot worse.

On the other hand, Bart Weil announced, "So Aramis is buying the drinks tonight."

Aramis groaned. The big, grizzled German could consume beer like a bilge pump on the ships he used to crew. Some of the others had expensive tastes, but not the sheer volume Bart did.

Jason Vaughn said, "Hmm . . . I'm tasting . . . Elijah Craig? No, I think it's Ardbeg. Mmm . . . good stuff."

It was going to be a long, expensive night.


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