The best course of action came to him in the middle of the night. Hartmann had seduced the bar chick by playing coy, but she was the exact opposite of Carol in many ways – such a tactic would backfire if he tried it. Carol, the woman who had perfected invisibility to survive, needed to be seen.
If he acted distant or kept her waiting, she would fade away before he had the chance to make his move. He needed to keep her in his sights. He needed to let her know beyond a doubt that he had seen her.
So, the next morning when he rejoined Carol and captain Lambert, he gave her a warm smile. “Hello,” he said. “Are you rested up for more training?”
She nodded, answered, “Yes, master sergeant,” and looked up to meet his eyes. He noticed the fleck of green in her otherwise brown eyes, and thought about how appropriately they matched her. There was something about Carol that was easy to pass over, that hinted at something colorful inside of her, that he was only now beginning to see after all the time he had spent watching her. Hartmann liked her eyes, and only after Lambert gruffly ordered her to approach him did he realize that he had been staring.
“Let’s get this radio on you,” Lambert said, clipping the receiver onto her shirt. “We’re going to practice some maneuvers in the Suit today.”
“Yes, sir.” Carol climbed the ladder up to the cockpit of the Suit, then hesitated and glanced back at Hartmann. He nodded.
“Corporal Holmes is bringing the jeep around for us,” Lambert said quietly to Hartmann. “I want to see how she handles the Suit while we transition outside.”
“She should do much better today, sir,” Hartmann answered, somewhat reluctantly. “Provided that she doesn’t forget how much bigger she is.”
Lambert lifted the radio to his mouth and pressed the button as he asked, “Carol, are you settled?”
“Good. We’re going back out to the airfield, where you will be drilled on the essential skills of running and stopping.”
There was something redundant in Hartmann’s presence. As the top pilot, he knew that he belonged there to offer his expertise, but there wasn’t anything new for him to say; Carol was the one who had full access to the Suit, while he had merely mastered the demo version; he had no clue how much more the Suit was capable of. With Lambert coaching her through the drills, Hartmann was left to sit and watch.
“Is that all, sir?” Carol asked, sounding surprised.
“It’s harder than you think, commander.” Lambert shook his head. “Go on and get your ass outside.”
“This is all unorthodox,” Hartmann muttered as they watched Carol precede them through the giant double doors. “I suppose that we aren’t going to bother with teaching her how to stand at attention and salute.”
Lambert shook his head. “Carol is … the classified radical faction in the military. We can skip building her identity as a soldier and go straight into the specifics of what she needs to know.”
“Like how to take out the enemy without blowing up a hospital in the process.” Hartmann smirked. “We’re in trouble, sir.”
“I know.” Lambert lifted the radio up and spoke into it, “Okay, Carol. There’s a mile marker painted on the ground out there. I want you to run as fast as you can, then stop precisely on it without overshooting.”
“Yes, sir,” Carol replied, then took off.
Corporal Holmes was ready with the jeep, so Hartmann waited until they were both settled in their seats with the younger soldier as a witness before he said, “You need to teach her proper radio protocol, instead of using it like you’re chatting on the phone to your girlfriend … sir.”
Lambert’s jaw twitched, and his face turned the slightest bit red. Holmes silently chuckled. “You’re right,” he admitted quietly, then cleared his throat. “She’s going to need to know how to communicate efficiently.”
As they approached in the jeep, Hartmann said, “Looks like she overshot,” and pointed to where the Suit was standing some distance away from the marker.
“Dammit,” Lambert growled, then said into the radio, “Carol, you’re way off. Over.”
“I’m sorry, sir. When I tried to stop, my feet just kept going on their own,” she replied.
“When you’re done speaking, you need to be in the habit of saying over.” Lambert rubbed the bridge of his nose. “You know about stopping distance with driving a car, right? Over.”
“No, sir. I’ve always ridden the bus.” There was a pause, then Carol quickly added, “Over?”
“Of course she wouldn’t know,” Lambert muttered to himself. “That would be too convenient.”
Hartmann took the radio. “MSG Hartmann here. Bigger objects like the Suit get a lot of momentum going, especially when you’re moving fast. If you want to stop on target, you need to start slowing down before you reach it. Try again, now. Over.”
Lambert scowled. With his little comment, Hartmann had put the captain in the position of becoming self-conscious about how he treated his subordinate, and it was starting to eat at him. Especially with corporal Holmes silently bearing witness.