It was after dinner when the little squad was called into one of the debriefing rooms and told that they were finally going to be given a real job to do.

The debriefing room was obviously made for a much larger group of people. The five of them were huddled up on one end of the room, in front of the Colonel. Wilom felt like he should have a ledger. He did have his notebook with him, a fact that made Javrinnen wish she had come prepared and Harie laugh a little internally at the ‘green ones’. Firin and Yolin were completely ignoring him.

The briefing hadn’t started and Wilom hadn’t yet opened his notebook — he was otherwise occupied by listening in on the Colonel.

He’d taken to doing that more and more since he’d arrived. He’d listened more to the Colonel’s thoughts than anything his squadmates had said to him. Not that they’d noticed.

A few weeks ago, that might have made him feel bad. It still did, a little, but hell, at this point, in for the egg, in for the goose. It wasn’t just the Colonel he was listening in to — it was any commanding officer he could. He needed information. He and Vanda had learned that the hard way. You couldn’t do anything from inside. They had to be outside it … maybe above it, if he was totally honest with himself. Otherwise things would just keep falling in on them.

Listening to the officers didn’t make him feel better most of the time. They seemed as lost as he was. There was something going on and nobody felt like they were moving forward. It made his skin crawl, especially since he hadn’t yet managed to catch why.

So he listened in on Colonel Briar’s thoughts as the Colonel entered and started preparing. He didn’t get long — the Colonel wasn’t one to waste time or bring any objects that weren’t totally necessary. Wilom managed to catch a quick run down of the Colonel’s speech — or the second half of it — as the Colonel put a few things down on the table at the front of the room and turned to face them.

“Alright,” he said. “Time to put some of that training into use.” Wilom could tell from the subtle emphasis and the wave of sardonic humour that the word ‘some’ was particularly important to the sentence. “You’re green, so we’re not putting you in the field. We’re doing a supply run. Fresh munitions, food, important items. Some personals.” The Colonel tapped a projector beside him and a map of the country came up on the wall behind him, pale and distorted on the wall, but legible enough.

Wilom barely listened to the actual briefing as the Colonel described their travel arrangements and gestured on the map to demonstrate the front and then the location where they were heading. He was trying to listen in on the Colonel’s thoughts behind that. All he got, though, was a sort of tension — the Colonel was trying his hardest to concentrate only on this briefing, and to not get distracted.

He finished and looked around the room. “Questions?”

Wilom had to catch himself before he smiled at Javrinnen’s internal joke. ‘Yes. Exactly how much nervous shivering is considered unsoldierly?’. He let the others’ moods wash over him. Mostly relief that they weren’t being given something more difficult. Or that would probably involve actual fighting. Yolin was excited to finally be doing something useful, though also glad that useful probably wouldn’t involve combat. Some mixed feelings about being sent out from the training facility. Harie, in particular. There was a little disappointment, a little nervousness … but it also seemed like he was looking forward to seeing the soldiers. Hoping to see old friends? Nervous to see people he knew? Wilom passed his attention back to the Colonel.

“Right, then,” Colonel Briar said. “We’re out at dawn tomorrow. Be ready.”

And then he left the room.

Harie stood up, hands on his knees, letting out a loud breath. “I’ll be packing,” he said, and left the room.

Yolin followed soon after, as if he was trying to pretend that’s what he’d been planning all along. Firin sat there for a moment longer, staring at the map, and Wilom waited for a moment, too, to try and find out what he was thinking. The Ferryman’s Apprentice was only giving him an air of deep consideration. Javrinnen looked like she was trying to decide whether to stand up or not.

Finally, Firin looked at them. “Don’t mind me,” he said.

“Actually, I was waiting to find out if you knew something I didn’t,” Wilom said. “You look like you’re about to solve the meaning of life. Or at least the meaning of map.” He gestured.

Firin snorted. “As far as I can see, it means we’re about to have sore legs. No, I’m just studying the path we’ll take.” He waved his hand at it. “Seems like they want to keep us as far away from the front as possible.”

“That seems tactically sound to me,” Javrinnen said. “We’re carrying supplies. You don’t just send those close to enemy patrols with no reason.”

Firin nodded. “Yes, I know.” Then, he sighed. Wilom got the distinct sense that he’d been searching for something else there, trying to find some lie in Colonel Briar’s words.

Javrinnen looked at the map, and Wilom knew she’d just realised that, too. “I really think it’s just as he said,” she said quietly.

Firin nodded. “I know.”

Wilom shrugged. “They’ve got to be on the level sometimes,” he joked.

Firin gave him a sidelong glance. Javrinnen stared a little more openly.

Wilom raised his hands. “Sorry. Guess the cynicism still hasn’t worn off.”

“Don’t let it,” Firin advised. “Just because we follow orders doesn’t mean we can’t think about them.”

Javrinnen looked uncomfortable. “We should go,” she said. She didn’t want to be caught talking like that by the Colonel. She believed Firin, but she didn’t think it wise to be caught saying things like that, not after they’d been conscripted.

Wilom nodded. “We should. Pack or something.” He stretched. “Besides, thinking is good, but overthinking is a bad habit.”

Firin snorted. “Truer words,” he said, and they walked back to the barracks together, catching up with the other two as they went.




2 thoughts on “Mission Start

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