“Hey, Holmes…” Carol paused to take a bite of her bagel and chewed slowly. Holmes waited, then turned away to suppress a snicker, and she knew she was never going to hear the end of it. “Why was CPT Lambert totally different from yesterday?” she asked her question anyway, ignoring his giddiness.
“Easy. You’re his subordinate now,” Holmes replied. “It’s his responsibility to make sure you succeed.”
“Why does he need to yell at me so much? It’s…” Carol thought hard, then exclaimed, “discombobulating!”
Holmes lost himself in another fit of laughter. “I bet all your friends think that you’re the life of the party,” he chuckled. “Too bad you’re basically classified now, huh?”
“It won’t make much of a difference.” Carol traced a figure eight on the table with a blob of cream cheese to keep herself distracted. Holmes hadn’t been in the room for the General’s assessment of her, but it was frankly accurate. She lived for her work, and didn’t even keep so much as a goldfish at home for company. Truth be told, she liked the loneliness better than the sense of being a misfit that plagued her through every interaction, but it was not something she could explain to someone as normal as Holmes.
“I’ve got a girl back home, and I’m going to marry her as soon as she graduates from college. We’ve been sweethearts since we were kids.” Holmes was staring thoughtfully at the ceiling. “Sometimes you remind me of her, only she’s – you know – younger, prettier, and smarter.”
“Thanks, I appreciate that,” Carol replied sarcastically.
“Sometimes she has anxiety too, though she manages it through yoga and meditation – she swears it works wonders. You should try it too.”
“Who says I have anxiety?” Carol asked, feeling irritated.
“CPT Lambert told me while you were in the Suit. Don’t worry, we’re not judging you for it, he just wanted to make sure I didn’t mock you too much after this morning’s exercise. It was pretty hilarious.”
Carol wasn’t sure what to make of that revelation; she couldn’t tell if Lambert was a friend or not, which made interpreting his actions impossible. His instructions to Holmes could have been well-intentioned like the way he helped her down from the Suit, or patronizing like the way he called her ‘commander.’ Maybe he was a frenemy, or a friendly enemy. Or simply her superior officer.
“How do I write a report?” she asked to change the topic.
“Just write up a detailed journal entry, and Lambert will take care of the rest for now. Don’t sweat it.”
“All right, Holmes, escort me to my room. I’m done eating.” Carol stood. Internally she felt a strange tempest that had never bombarded her before, tearing her between her naturally complacent approach to life and her displeasure over how she was treated by all those military men. She felt obligated to prove that there was more to her than what they thought, then shied at the idea of having to take on more responsibilities. All she really cared about was the Suit, and they were an inconvenient but necessary part of piloting it. She decided that she would just go along with their behavior rather than risk compromising her privileges. It wouldn’t make a difference anyway; she had already been pigeonholed as ‘obedient’ and ‘unambitious’, and that was the reality of who she was.
Forty-five minutes later, after agonizing and rewriting to achieve a dazzling 226 word essay coupled with a completely blank mind, Carol asked Holmes to take her to Lambert’s office. As she put her report down on his desk, disheartened by the emptiness of it, she said, “I’m sorry that this morning wasn’t very productive.”
“To the contrary, it was a very informative session.” Lambert stuffed the paper into a folder without reading it, much to Carol’s dismay. “For example, we learned that the Suit imitates the body language of its pilot.”
“What?” She was astounded. “But you’ve had lots of different people in it, right?”
“Indeed, commander, I’ve even piloted it myself.” Lambert looked at her intently in the eye, causing her to drop her gaze and shift uncomfortably. “The problem was, every damn one of us was trained military. You’re the first civilian to ever go inside.”
“When can I pilot it again?” Carol asked.
“Later. First, you need to know how to be a soldier.” Lambert motioned for her to sit down. “You obviously aren’t physically built for boot camp, but given the unusual nature of this situation, I’m going to train you personally. We can’t send you out into the field to get everyone killed without first saying we tried our best, now can we, commander.”
“No, sir,” Carol answered meekly, her face burning.
“Don’t you worry your little head about it, you’re in good hands.” Lambert grinned as he cracked his knuckles. “Let’s begin.”