In the morning, Wilom was woken up to the sound of an argument.
Colonel Briar and Harie were standing by the remains of the campfire. Wilom was the first to have poked his head out of the tent, but he was not far ahead of most of the others. Yolin poked his head around, and so did some of the members of the other squad, but most of them pulled back into their tents immediately, not wanting to be caught snooping on the conversation. Continue reading
Wilom was a little surprised to learn, exiting the Pathways, that he hadn’t been missed at all. Colonel Torcel and the others had apparently assumed Colonel Briar would be chewing Wilom out for a while to come, and had set about creating a perimeter, demarcating a meeting area, and waiting. True to the Mayor’s word, they didn’t enter the city, though Wilom could tell that Torcel wasn’t happy about it. He joined them in placing the last few markers. He could tell that Javrinnen and Yolin, at least, were burning to ask him what had happened, but the first of the townspeople started arriving before they could draw him aside to ask. Continue reading
Since the first evacuation had gone relatively smoothly, when they woke up and got on the road the next morning, the atmosphere was quite different. The squads were more comfortable — more hopeful. Still rattled, of course. They’d all seen Harie come back with the townspeople who had nearly been left behind. But there was a distinct undercurrent of “maybe that hadn’t gone so badly”, and that was a difficult sentiment to squash entirely. But Wilom was having trouble trusting that things would continue to go smoothly. He didn’t know whether he was affected by Harie’s persistent bad mood and the Colonels’ persistent, tired resignation — that feeling of being very near the end of a draining project, knowing that soon they would be able to rest, but also knowing that there was nothing they could do about it yet — or whether he was just starting to get cynical, but he couldn’t help suspecting that something was going to go wrong before the end of this assignment. Continue reading
By the time they were halfway to their first destination, Wilom was almost starting to find the routine of walking relaxing. Wake up, eat, walk, eat, walk, eat, sleep. Almost. He might have been able to put the destination out of his head if it were just him, but he was surrounded by the others, and through the Ferryman’s Knowledge, their thoughts were encroaching on his own. He didn’t even need to catastrophise about what was going to happen once they got to the town — everyone else around him was doing that for him. The longer he listened, the more outlandish the ideas got, particularly from Javrinnen, but also the harder it was to dismiss them as outlandish. He could feel his shoulders tense up more and more the longer they walked and the closer they got to their destination. If only he could have slowed down and talked to the others … but they were being marched too fast and the few stilted attempts at conversation had been met with a brusque “Save it for your legs” from Colonel Briar. The armour, too, while lighter than expected at first, was beginning to wear on everyone as the day went on, and it was getting harder for the squads to find the motivation to begin the conversation. Continue reading
Even though he wasn’t using the Ferryman’s Knowledge — at least, as much as he could avoid it — the next few hours were a blur for Wilom. They got the news first from the soldiers and conscripts who met them at the gates, excited to spread the news to new ears. Colonel Briar was immediately whisked away, in the centre of a crowd of other commanding officers. They said nothing as they left, and Wilom would have suspected, even without the Ferryman’s Knowledge to confirm it, that the Colonel was being taken to debriefings and probably strategy meetings, to keep the officers informed of what was going on. Wilom idly wondered how much of the real situation someone like the Colonel would be told. Was he high enough in rank or position to get most of the story? Or only the parts that related to his missions? Of those parts, how many were lies, like what was published in the newspapers? Continue reading
On the fourth day of walking — Wilom had no illusions that what they were doing was anywhere close to marching — the convoy finally arrived at the camp where they were running supplies. Continue reading
Wilom adjusted the straps on his bag, and pretended to stifle a yawn. He honestly didn’t mind the early mornings — in fact, he didn’t seem to need much sleep at all anymore — but even Harie seemed to be suffering for the pre-dawn wake up call, and the Ferryman’s Knowledge was telling him to play along. It wasn’t particularly heavy, but he hadn’t worn the backpack since he’d arrived, and he didn’t like the way the straps sat.
Two trucks rounded the corner. Colonel Briar turned to them. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
The next morning, they all assembled in the yard. The Colonel had a grin on his face and his hand resting on a big pile of blue cloth. Continue reading
Wilom didn’t introduce himself to the rest of the squad until after they’d left the training field, although most of his attention was taken up with trying not to wobble too much. He was sort of impressed by his ability to keep up — given that in the last almost-century he could count the number of times he’d moved faster than a walk on one hand. But he’d managed not to embarrass himself — he could at least keep up with Javrinnen and Yolin, even if he didn’t have a hope of matching Firin, who had the advantage of long legs, and Harie, who seemed to be able to turn off the parts of her brain that interacted with the outside word at will, if the Ferryman’s Knowledge had anything to go by. Continue reading