When Carol reported to the bunker the next morning, Lambert wasn’t there – to make it worse, the two armed guards turned her away. She spent the day bumming around base, jittery at the thought of the Suit sitting all alone without her.
The day after was a replay of the same scene, and annoyed that she couldn’t properly sulk in front of an audience, Carol snapped at Holmes to get off her back and leave her alone. He repeated that he was assigned to escort her, which made her even more irritable. She spent the day hiding in her room.
By the end of the third day, her nerves boiled over; she couldn’t take it anymore. She stormed to Lambert’s office, half expecting to discover that he was vacationing in the Bahamas without giving her any notification, so it surprised her when she flung open the door and saw him sitting behind his desk.
“What’s going on?” she demanded, venting her pent-up frustration. “You said that I was fine, but we haven’t done any training in the Suit since I went on that mission. What the hell?”
“Sit down, commander,” he growled indistinctly, not bothering to look at her as he poured himself a glass out of a blue-tinted bottle. Carol gaped as she pulled out a chair.
“Are you drinking, captain?” she asked.
“Correction: I am getting drunk,” he replied.
“I don’t see how that could possibly be constructive. I’ve been reporting to the bunker every morning for days, and you’ve been letting me down. I thought that our training would go much more smoothly from now on, and that I would finally make you proud, and yet you just suddenly drop out like it doesn’t matter. So, seriously, what the hell?”
“That,” Lambert pointed at her. “It’s because of that. Irritability and aggression. We already lost MSG Hartmann because no one paid attention, and now you’re exhibiting personality changes as well. If I had the authority, I would decommission the Suit altogether.”
“My personality is not changing; you’ve just never seen me angry before,” Carol spat, then shied at sound of her own voice. She was jonesing for certain, but being inside the Suit made her feel like she was more herself. If she was changing, it was to her true nature.
“Commander…” Lambert took a moment to nurse his glass. When he spoke again, his voice sounded even less articulate than it had before, “Do you know how long we’ve had the Suit? The military found it when you were… still in diapers, I’d bet. Do you know why we didn’t start piloting it until the last few years?”
“No, sir,” she replied, crossing her arms and leaning back. She didn’t want to waste time on chitchat, but Lambert was too inebriated to notice or care.
“We had to study it. We had to reverse engineer ammo for it. Bullets don’t form out of thin air, you know.” He chuckled to himself. “The first man to climb inside was terrified that he was going to die, but his bravery was inspiring. You have any idea how often I think about him and wish I was more like that?”
“No, sir,” Carol grumbled.
“MSG Hartmann paid a price for using the Suit. I think that it’s too fundamentally alien to work with human brains, and we should lock it away for good. But you see, the General-” Lambert pointed up at the ceiling “-doesn’t want to do that. The fact is, commander, we’re losing. It’s a closely guarded secret, but our situation is a clusterfuck right now, and everyone is hoping that the Suit will carry us singlehandedly to victory.”
“Is that why you’re getting drunk?” Carol tried to keep her voice sharp, but she wasn’t feeling it anymore. Lambert seemed too pensive and pathetic to berate.
“Yes, ma’am, it is. It worries me that your psychological profile has changed so drastically. The Carol I started with couldn’t have killed a mouse without mourning it, but now look at you: I’ve seen grown men cry after their first kill, but your reaction was to have dinner. You were a completely different person.”
“Captain, I just…” Carol struggled to figure out what she wanted to say. “I need to pilot the Suit. I don’t think you understand what it’s like for me.”
“Maybe I understand too much.”
Lambert poured himself another glass, and Carol watched him drink in silence for a moment. A thought came to her out of nowhere, and compelled by curiosity, she asked, “Did anyone figure out those numbers I read to you on the first day?”
“They’re dates, commander,” Lambert snorted.
“Obviously. I just wondered if we learned anything about them.” Carol couldn’t explain why she felt an urgent need to know, other than it was somehow personally significant to her in some way.
“They’re interstellar dates. Now, get outta here, you’re interrupting my meditation time.” Whatever mood had possessed him before, was gone now. “Enjoy your vacation, ’cause eventually I’ll be forced to reunite you with your real body, whether I like it or not.”
Carol stood slowly, studying Lambert closely. “You remember that?” she asked quietly.
“I sure as hell do. Now, git!” He grabbed a book and threw it at her, missing by a wide margin but his point was made. Carol scampered out the door.
She wished she had kept her mouth shut.