After the beep test, the rest had been easy. Mostly. I’d aced the firearms examination, completed the obstacle course, and had just passed my physical. I don’t know exactly what Vince gave me but it did what it was supposed to, at least. After I got my drug test results back , clean, even Patricia seemed a little impressed that I’d managed to do all the trials and get fully cleared for field duty in just under a week.
Alan seemed, if I’m not mistaken, proud. I found that strange. If anything I thought that he, knowing that I didn’t pass all the tests on my own merit alone, would’ve had some reservations. But no. When the results came back he was the first one at my door, knocking with a level of eagerness that didn’t fit a man in his position.
When I opened the door for him, he had brushed past me at a speed that made me feel like falling backward. He pulled me along by my wrist, to sit on the bed next to him, and started reading from the tablet he’d brought in his hand.
“I got an email this morning.” He began, flicking his eyes down to read from the screen. “We are pleased to inform you that Kalahan Waymire had passed all the applicable examinations required for approval to join the task force.”
It was way too early, and I’d slept way too little, so I didn’t really understand what any of this meant until he patted me on the back and said “ You passed, Kalahan. You’re clear.”
I was surprised, and relieved, and vaguely confused, and I couldn’t see my own face but I imagine it must’ve been something because Alan started laughing moments later. “You’re in, K.” He pushed off the bed in a move more graceful than his stature warranted, and extended his hand to help me stand too.
I took it, smiling, and he turned us to face the door.
“Come on, let’s eat.” He slapped me on the back, and pushed me through the door.
It was the first time I’d been in the mess hall, and Alan hadn’t been lying. It was loud. Too loud, almost, to be coming only from only the two or so dozen people there.
I scanned the room, rows of identical tables, mostly unoccupied, spread evenly apart with an unnatural level of precision. Men and women, all in the same navy uniforms, peppered throughout the open, clean space in groups of three or four.
There were some open tables toward the end of the room, and I turned to walk in their direction. A hand on my shoulder stopped me, and Alan steered me around and pointed my gaze at the table nearest to the chum line.
I hadn’t recognised her at first. In standard issue alliance fatigues, and not her suit or uniform, Patricia looked very different.
“Let’s join her.” Alan said, and we threaded our way between the rows of tables to reach her.
“Hello, Ma’am.” I said, reaching the table moments before Vincent. She nodded in my direction, hardly looking up from the food she pushed around with her fork. I swallowed and took a seat on the opposite side of the table, slightly to the far side of the bench so not to put myself directly opposite her.
“Hey, Trish.” Alan said, injecting his voice an enthusiasm that sounded much more natural than I could’ve managed. He plopped down next to me, taking the space opposite Patricia . “How are you today?” He asked, leaning across the table and into her presence. For the first time since I’d recognized her, Patricia put her fork down. “I’m fine, thank you.” She said. I noticed the dark lines under her eyes. The thin layer of shine. Oil? Sweat? On her face, and I thought that she most definitely didn’t look fine.
Then again, I’d never seen her outside of a professional setting. Maybe, now, she just looked human.
“And how are you two?” She asked, acknowledging me with a glance but focusing on Alan. I stole a glance, over Patricia’s head, at the chum line. I’d already checked out of the conversation, and smelling Patricia’s food was making me hungry. I thought about whether or not it would be rude to leave the table and head for the food.
“Well,” Vincent started, giving me a pointed look that nailed me to the conversation and, by extension, the table. “I just found out this morning that someone passed all her physicals.” He punctuated the sentence with an elbow to my ribs, meant to be playful, but I don’t think Vincent completely knew his own strength. I winced, but Vincent continued, not noticing.
“She’s all clear for the task force.” He beamed at me, flashing teeth. Straight and white and perfect, like tombstones in a military cemetery.
“Oh, yes.” She said, picking up her fork again. “I got the email this morning, too. Congrats, Waymire.”
“Thank you, Ma’am.” I said, returning her unenthusiastic smile.
Vincent seemed to notice her lack of excitement, too. He just had to gall to say something about it.
“Isn’t that great, Patricia?” He pressed, leaning even further across the table. “Less than a week here, and she’s already got the all clear.” He pressed her, looking for a reaction. He got one, maybe not the one he’s been pushing for.
“Not all clear.” she said, giving him a pointed glare.
“Patricia…” he started. Suddenly he seemed much less confident. “Can’t you just give her this? She’s done well.” He laid a hand on my shoulder. I wasn’t exactly sure what they were talking about, but from the way Patricia lifted both her eyebrows and put the focus back on her food, I was guessing it was regarding the psych evaluation I had actively been avoiding.
Patricia said nothing further, and Vincent cleared his throat. “I’ll..umm, I’ll go fetch as some food, Kalahan.” I was about to follow him to the chum line, but he moved too quickly and didn’t look back at me. I could follow him, probably, but that’d just make it look like I was trying to run away from Patricia. Which, I mean, I was, but I didn’t wanna be a totaldick about it.
I looked over at Alan, trying for a glance. An acknowledgement. Some gesture of support. But his back was turned to me, and I got nothing from him.
Patricia still has her head down, and was taking measured bites of her food. Noticing the chewing noises coming from a table near us, I noticed that she had much better manners than the recruits.
It was strange. More than strange, actually, to be eating with my supervising officer like I would any other of my colleagues. I think that, at some level , I had convinced myself that she didn’t really eat. That she was somehow more than human. Or, less than human, maybe. Wouldn’tve been all too shocked if it came out the she was a Synth.
I guess she must've sensed my staring, because she looked up at me a few moments later. “So, you’re basically clear.” She said.
“I guess so, Ma’am.” I said, forcing myself not to fiddle with my fingers too much.
“Just the psych eval left. And I’m sure you’ll pass that with flying colours.”
I ignored the bite in her voice and went back to staring at my hands, suddenly finding the layers of scars and on my palms very interesting.
I sensed something in her demeanour shift.
“What is it?” I asked. Not that I wanted to have more of a conversation, but not knowing was going to be worse.
“I’m sorry, Waymire.” She began. Making full eye contact with me for the first time that day. “I am glad you passed the physical. I am. It’s very impressive that you managed it in a week, considering-”
I cut her off, not ready for where this was headed. Not here. Not with her. “So, what’s wrong? I might not be the picture of mental health,” She lifted her eyebrows, smirked. I ignored it. “...but we both know there’s folks a lot more fucked than me that’ve passed the psyche. You’re not really that worried about me failing, are you? Do you really think that I won’t get cleared?”
“No, I don’t.” she said. She ran a hand through her hair. “But uh, Kalahan, I guess that we should’ve told you more about just what exactly you’re getting cleared for. I mean, this is an entirely optional opportunity. We didn’t even ask if you wanted to be in taskforce. You’ve been through a lot of trauma, Kalahan. And you didn’t even get your full shoreleave. No-one would blame you for putting this off for a while, taking some time to recover.”
“Of course I wanna be in the task-force.” I said, crossing my arms. “I wouldn’t have cut my shore leave a week short if I didn’t.”
“Yes, but Kalahan-” She said, too quickly for my liking. She was starting to sound agitated. She slowed for a moment and took a breath, pausing before saying. “We need to make sure you’re joining for the right reasons.”
I shifted on the bench. “You said this was about Abraham’s Brotherhood, right?”
“Well, then, I’m joining to fight some fucking terrorists. Isn’t that the right reason?”
She leaned closer, across the table. The way Vincent had, but without his level of cheeriness.
“Is that why you want to join, Kalahan?”
It was only when I jolted into a perfect posture that I realized how I’d been slouching. “What kind of a question isthat?” I raised my voice, grateful now for the blanket of chatter in the mess hall. I had a whole speech loaded up. Talking about doing good, and what the Alliance was supposed to be. A union of humanity, strong and just, and how I valued those ideals. It would’ve been mostly bullshit, true, but it would’ve sounded good.
I locked my jaw. She’d been dying to do this. I could tell by the smug way she settled back after I said nothing back. By the way she reached for her fork, ignoring me again. She thought she won.
“You want me to get better, huh?" I said, hands slamming on the table. The resonance startled a few people around us. Startled me, even, but I wasn’t about to stop. “Do you want me to recover?” I stood up, legs trapped between the bench and the table, and tried to step out without breaking my train of thought. “Well, this is how I recover. Not stuck on fucking Omega, living in my shitty apartment, coming in every week to get my fucking head shrunk!”
Patricia sat back. She looked surprised, if nothing else. She looked like she didn’t know what to do.
It was immensely satisfying.
“I recover by finding these sons of bitches and giving them what they deserve. I’ll recover when I get justice for my dead girlfriend."
The whole mess hall had turned now. all the private conversations had went silent, and all attention was focused on me. Even the cooks behind the food bars looked interested, and I caught a glimpse of Alan near the front of the line. He was stunned, eyes wide with two trays of food in his hands.
"Justice?” Patricia said, still seated, and looking much too composed for my liking. “Is it justice you're looking for, Waymire, or is it revenge?"
"And so what if it is? I go on the mission, I'm gonna fry some circuits anyway. Who cares why."
"Revenge solves nothing, Kalahan."
"No."I leant back over the table, supporting my weight on two out stretched arms.
"No?" She said, eyebrow quirked. I saw Alan again, approaching the table. He had left both trays at the end of the line, and was reaching for me with his newly free hands.
I stepped left to avoid his grasp.
"Revenge solves everything."