The squad lined up in one straight line to receive the reports for their latest training exercise. As with traditional report receiving procedures, names are not used, just a bunch of numbers on a tag given to you (Not that I wasn't used to it, of course. After all, I've been doing this for more than three years already.)
"298!" And I went up to get my report. And all I saw was a bunch of statistics. All that made no sense, however, until one actually knew other information pertaining to the bunch of numbers on that piece of paper. That 77 points out of 100 for marksmanship could very well have been the lowest out of the squad, and that 70 for assembly could have been higher than any other recruit in the whole platoon. Irregardless, whatever these marks represented, they couldn't have been too bad - I was, after all, in pretty much the best squad in the whole platoon.
My thoughts had been interrupted by the sergeant giving statistics. He started off by giving the platoon averages, and with each average released my face smiled just a slight bit more. I had definitely done decently in the whole platoon, probably being above average in a majority of all the aspects of the training exercise. Then came the squad averages.
"The average for marksmanship in this squad is 84 out of 100. We would like to further applaud 286 and 287 for scoring perfect shots at 100, having all shots dead center and zoomed in right on the head. There's also 304, 284, 297, 300, 306, and 292, each managing to shoot 9 perfect runs and almost perfecting the 10th." And to think the platoon average was 67.
The numbers no longer brought a smile to my face. I didn't do a single thing that wasn't outshined by more than half of my squad mates. Not a single thing.
"SOC averages were at 16 minutes for one round. Congrats to 304 and 297 for clearing the SOC in the fastest two timings, 13:47 and 14:12 respectively." I looked down on that paper. 19:32. The pass was 18. The next guy after me got 17:12. I bent my head down slowly, hands covering over my eyes.
304. Johnson. We called him Lil' J.O. and that's what we stuck with. A child of a genius, and one heck of a genius of a child. One of the more immature people around normal camp life, but look at him on the SOC and devil's barely the word for it.
297. Good Ol' Mike. An Asperger's, but that guy's an iron man when it comes down to anything. He can shoot, run, march, assemble and repair, and beat most up at hand-to-hand.
299 came over and leaned on my shoulder.
"Hey, what happened, Err? Doesn't seem like you're too happy about something."
The younger of the pair of Jacks. Not that they were called such, of course; their names just started with J. Both were slightly on the plump side (and no doubt as jolly as expected), and while one was expectedly slow on the SOC, somehow the other could only be beaten by those who were very fit. Young Jack here happened to be the fast one.
"Not much lah, J. Just screwed up my SOC big time. Look at this. 19. You think anyone here beat that?"
"Oh come on. Zack's 17:34 run got 10th place in the platoon. I'm sure the course was just far more difficult this year."
"Fancy hearing that. Maybe the other one, J, but it's not comforting and reassuring hearing that from you."
Lil' John came over with his good buddy Kev. Both children at heart, but both insanely good at whatever they do. "Hey, Err, come on. Don't look so down. At least the thing's over, right? There's always next time, and there's also the block leave. Just take it easy and take a break, ya?
"You go ahead and do that. I've got explaining to do to others where you don't. So just leave me alone, John." And that's what he did.
"Hey, Err. How were your scores? You know, it feels quite weird? I have a bunch of 80s and a bunch of 60s, it's almost as if I do well on one and horrendous on the other." Not the most sensitive child to have inside your heart, Kev.
"Well, at least you did well overall, I guess. Isn't that what counts?" I forced a smile back, and sadly his sincere smile in reply to mine was not something I deserved in any way whatsoever.
I looked around again. X (After all, Alex never took a liking to alcohol) was sitting there completely silent and pretty much serious, almost like me. Except I knew that he probably did well and was just planning on what he had to do during the next week or so. The other Jack was at the other corner, talking to Mike about how they screwed up the theory and assembly tests. Unc' Sam, the big bro of the squad, being the usual joking self he is and cheerfully chatting to the mates around him.
And I didn't get it. I couldn't get it. How? I wish the question had been how they did it, but I knew secretly that such a question could never be answered in a way that benefited me. They were just better. Every single one of them. The best marksman, the best SOC run, the best assembly time, the best theory knowledge; every single one comes from cadets from this squad. And possibly the second and third too.
And there was me, a man above the platoon but hopelessly below the squad. What's a normal man to do in a league of extraordinary gentlemen? I was hopelessly lost. And just as incapable of ever being able to shine from the squad. Not from the pair. Not from Lil' John or his buddy Kev. Not from Good Ol' Mike. Not from Unc' Sam. Not from X. Was I supposed to be sidekick to so many superheroes?
"Hey, J, y'know with all these scores we're getting, we could go and rename ourselves the Elite Squad. ES in short. Now wouldn't that be cool?"
"Come on, Sam. We already heard of this before. And you know what the sergeants are like. But yeah, it would be cool. Everyone here, a member of the Elite Squad. That sounds cool. It would be really cool."