Hartmann studied her, still feeling a little choked over the way Carol had latched onto his confession of the truth. Any normal person in her position would still be seething with resentment towards him for abruptly shattering everything about their life, but Carol … she had yet to complain that she missed her friends, her apartment, or her favorite pair of shoes. As they recited the NATO alphabet together, it was almost as if she didn’t even remember that he was the reason why she was there in the first place, or that her life had been different just a few days prior. She submitted to her fate as a military asset without resistance, and was now clear-headed enough to peer through his facade when she should have been overcome with emotion.
After repeating “x-ray, yankee, zulu,” a few times, Carol mused quietly, “I wonder where the captain went.”
“Undoubtedly for a little …” Hartmann curled his fingers into a loose fist with his thumb out, which he pointed at his mouth as he tilted his head back. Carol looked at him, baffled.
“What does that mean?” she asked.
“Captain Lambert is a drunk,” Hartmann replied.
“But he never seems drunk.” Carol’s brow wrinkled.
Hartmann shrugged. “I don’t know the exact particulars of his drinking habits, but everyone knows that he hits the whiskey bottles hard. He’s under a lot of pressure to make something useful out of you, so he’s probably going to be indulging more than usual for the next while.”
Carol fixed her eyes on the table and pushed her fists hard onto her knees. “I’m not trying to be difficult.”
“I really am doing my best,” she continued. “I don’t see why it would drive him to drink. It’s not like I’m making him fight me to be more cooperative or anything like that.”
“It’s the general, not you. Captain Lambert’s been given orders that he’s got to push through, no matter what.” The image of Lambert encouraging Carol as she lay on the ground flashed through Hartmann’s mind and tightened his jaw. “It might be best if you keep low around him, and try not to agitate him.”
“You think so?” Carol asked slowly, and bit her lower lip. Hartmann glanced over at the corporal, and was disappointed to see that Holmes was watching them.
“Yes.” He stood and made a show of stretching. “Let’s get dinner. You need to remember to always eat three square meals a day to keep your strength up and build your muscles.”
“You guys are so weird about that,” Carol said with a smile.
“We’re trained to be.” Hartmann held out his hand to help Carol up, and she took it hesitantly then let go quickly. “Unless Captain Lambert instructs otherwise, you’re dismissed for personal time afterwards.”
Something about that made Carol laugh. “Personal time, huh?”
Hartmann studied her carefully, trying to read her thoughts. “Don’t have anything to do?” he asked.
She looked him straight in the eyes, her expression strange and uncharacteristic as she replied bluntly, “No. And you already know that.”
It reminded him of the moment she had mysteriously slipped through his fingers and jumped into the Suit – the moment that had begun this entire debacle that held him captive. The thought flashed through his mind that there was another Carol hiding inside, and that was the reason why she seemed so empty at first glance. Was the boring, bland woman a mask for something else?
The pieces were beginning to form. Carol, orphaned as a toddler in a tragedy that had nearly killed her as well, had grown up in foster care, emancipated herself at a young age, found stability, then stagnated for nearly half of her life as she drifted into invisibility. While he knew that there was some significance behind it all, he couldn’t place his finger on what.
For a brief moment, he considered asking Lambert for his analysis – it was well known that the captain had worked as a psychologist before enlisting, and would be able to better interpret what Hartmann had discovered – but he immediately disregarded the idea as harebrained. He needed to keep those two apart, not give them an excuse to engage in emotional bonding.