Terra is at the cabin when you get back with Grisham. She’s sitting on the couch, working through a stack of tablets and papers and maps. She looks intensely busy and very focused.
“Instructor Credenza’s report was positive,” Grisham says as you and she enter the room.
“Good,” Terra nods without so much as looking up at you. “Quick meal break, then there’s Instructor Gray after lunch.”
You follow Grisham through to the small kitchen at the back of the cabin. There you lean against the cabinet and eat a sandwhich out of foil. Grisham makes herself a hot drink and stands across from you, sipping it. The door to the living area is open, and Terra is only a few feet away, but she may as well be miles away.
“Why do I have to see all these different instructors?” You ask between bites. “Why can’t you just train me?”
“Because there are experienced instructors here,” Grisham says. “And because I’m working with Terra to map out our next moves. You’re going to have to work hard to get up to speed, Cadet. We’re asking you to gain years of proficiency in days or weeks. This is going to be intense, and it’s going to involve as many instructors as we can bring on board. So eat well. This afternoon is going to be an intense physical workout for you.”
This is what you signed up for. You know that. This is what you agreed to several times over. And yet now it’s happening you feel sort of strangely disconnected from your unit.
“Where’s Sarah? Is she training too?”
“She’s doing some reconnaissance,” Grisham says. “I’ll be joining her in the next few hours.”
“Oh. For how long?”
“A day or two, maybe,” Grisham says. “It depends how long it takes for us to gather the necessary information.”
You guess you can’t really feel bad about that. The mission has obviously begun in earnest. It’s not about you anymore. It’s about the job at hand.
“You’ll have a training schedule,” Grisham says. “Terra will be here co-ordinating.”
You nod, swallowing the last of the sandwich with a glass of water. There’s a very different mood in the air which makes you reluctant to complain or express the little hollow feeling that appears in your stomach at the news Grisham is going away.
“Alright, Cadet.” Grisham reaches out and tussles your hair. “I’ve got to get going and so do you. You’ll find your instructor waiting for you in the gymnasium. It’s about half a mile to the north of here, other side from the firing range.”
You really don’t feel like going and meeting some new instructor, but Grisham is already moving away, leaving you standing there.
“You don’t want to be late, Cadet.”
Terra’s voice comes from the couch. She still hasn’t looked at you, but she’s obviously keenly aware of your presence.
“No ma’am,” you mumble. You leave the cabin and begin to head toward the main camp, where you’re sure you’ll find the gym. As you walk through the trees, you start to think. Terra’s annoyed at you? Why?
“I swear to every deity in the world,” a voice comes through the trees. “Gray is the biggest bitch on the planet.”
There are some soldiers coming in the opposite direction. They’re wearing rec clothing and they look like they’ve been training. They’re both young and female, and they both look like they’ve been dragged backwards through several bushes. One of them is nursing her arm and the other is limping. They don’t notice you as they pass by several feet away.
“Gray is the original bitch,” the other soldier says. “I’m transferring out of her stream. This is crazy.”
Gray. That’s the instructor you’re supposed to be seeing now. You stop, hesitating. The very last thing you need right now is some unpleasant person who is going to kick your ass. Maybe you should just skip this session. It’s not like anyone will know. Grisham isn’t even here and Terra seems to have a hundred better things to do than pay attention to you.